Hell! there ain’t no rules around here! We are tryin’ to accomplish somep’n!

Thomas Edison? Martin André Rosanoff? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote investigator: All the rules and regulations of the modern world can be quite aggravating. That is why I greatly enjoy the following quotation proclaimed by Thomas Edison to the employees in his Menlo Park laboratory:

Hell, there are no rules here. We’re trying to accomplish something.

I read this statement in a book published in 2000, but an exact reference was not given. Did Edison really say this?

Quote Investigator: Yes, he probably did make a comment like this to one of his researchers. The evidence was published in the September 1932 issue of Harper’s Magazine which contained an article titled “Edison in His Laboratory” by Martin André Rosanoff who performed chemical investigations for Edison. Rosanoff described an exchange he had with Edison shortly after he had joined the staff around 1903 [HMLR]:

I approached him in a humble spirit: “Mr. Edison, please tell me what laboratory rules you want me to observe.” And right then and there I got my first surprise. He spat in the middle of the floor and yelled out,

“Hell! there ain’t no rules around here! We are tryin’ to accomplish somep’n!”

And he walked off, leaving me flabbergasted.

Note that the original printed quotation used the informal contraction “ain’t” instead of “are no”. Also, dialect spellings were employed for “tryin'” and “somep’n”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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