There's a sucker born every minute

There's a sucker born every minute

"There's a sucker born every minute"" is a phrase often credited to P.T. Barnum (1810 – 1891), an American showman. It is generally taken to mean that there are (and always will be) a lot of gullible people in the world.

However, when Barnum's biographer tried to track down "when" Barnum had uttered this phrase, all of Barnum's friends and acquaintances told him it was out of character. Barnum's credo was more along the lines of "there's a customer born every minute" — he wanted to find ways to draw new customers in all the time because competition was fierce and people could become bored easily.

While some sources claim the quote is most likely from famous con-man Joseph ("Paper Collar Joe") Bessimer, [cite book|title=P. T. Barnum: the Legend and the Man|first=A. H.|last=Saxon|publisher=Columbia University Press|year=1989] it was actually uttered by David Hannum, spoken in reference to Barnum's part in the Cardiff Giant hoax. Hannum, who was exhibiting the original giant and had sued Barnum unsuccessfully for exhibiting a copy and claiming it was the original, was referring to the crowds continuing to pay to see Barnum's exhibit even after both it and the original had been proven to be fakes.

In turn, Barnum's fellow circus owner and arch-rival Adam Forepaugh attributed the quote to Barnum in a newspaper interview in an attempt to discredit him. However, Barnum never denied making the quote. It is said that he thanked Forepaugh for the free publicity he had given him.

Yet another source credits late 1860s Chicago "bounty broker, saloon and gambling-house keeper, eminent politician, and dispenser of cheating privileges..." Michael Cassius McDonald as the originator of the aphorism. According to the book "Gem of the Prairie: Chicago Underworld" (1940) by Herbert Asbury, when McDonald was equipping his gambling house known as "The Store" (at Clark and Monroe Streets in Chicago) his partner Harry Lawrence expressed concern over the large number of roulette wheels and faro tables being installed and their ability to get enough players to play the games. McDonald then allegedly said, "Don't worry about that, there's a sucker born every minute."

The earliest known appearance of the phrase in print is in Opie Read's 1898 novel "A Yankee from the West". [cite book|title=A Yankee from the West|first=Opie|last=Read|year=1898|publisher=Rand, McNally & Co.|pages=46]

In the John Dos Passos novel "The 42nd Parallel", the quotation is attributed to Mark Twain.


*The phrase is also the opening song in the Broadway musical "Barnum", about P.T. Barnum's life.
*The quote is featured on the original 1973 movie posters of Paper Moon, where it is attributed to Barnum [] .
*The quote is an aphorism in the body of the Scarecrow (Michael Jackson) in the film version of "The Wiz", which he pulls out when he returns to the Wizard of Oz's throne room and finds it unprepared for guests.


External links

* [ "All English Usage" explanation of the phrase]
* [ P. T. Barnum Never Did Say "There's a sucker born every minute"] ,
* [ There's a sucker born every minute] , "everything2"
* [ REVIEW: There's A Customer Born Every Minute: P.T. Barnum's Secrets to Business Success] , reprint from "Mark Twain Forum", February 27, 1998

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