Home / Q: Who Said “There’s a sucker born every minute”?

Q: Who Said “There’s a sucker born every minute”?

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A: P. T. Barnum, you say? Pretty close, but no. Although nearly always attributed to Barnum, the aphorism about suckers was actually delivered by Barnum’s rival David Hannum, a grade-A sucker himself. You see, in the 1860s, tobacconist John Hull created an elaborate, money-making hoax in which he had a 10-foot-tall stone statue of a man carved and then buried in Cardiff, New York. The giant stone man was then dug up again and Hull was now able to sell it as an archaeological oddity. In 1869, Hannum and four business partners took the bait and paid $37,500 for the worthless artifact thinking that they could turn a profit by charging people to get a glimpse of it.

A lot of buzz was generated about the giant (was he a petrified biblical figure? an ancient Native American statue? a distant ancestor of Bill Walton?), and as thousands of people began to pay good money to get a gander, it looked like Hannum’s investment was going to pay off quite nicely. That is, until clever P. T. Barnum entered the picture.

Always the sly one, Barnum built a giant of his own and claimed that it was the true Cardiff Giant – a fake of a fake! When people flocked to see Barnum’s creation, hapless Hannum (who didn’t even know at that point that he himself had paid roughly 40 grand for a fake) mused at the on-lookers, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

You said it, Hannum.

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  • Yet I eat 2 suckers every minute. They’ve got to up their production if they are going to last.

  • Doris Stones Edwards

    W.C. Fields said it first in a classic movie. Can’t remember the name of it.

    • the dark one

      lol, wc fields said it in a movie first, with movies being invented in the 1860 (talkies coming in the 20s) and wc fields being born the same year as movies invented. Not even close…..

      • Doris Stones Edwards

        Sure enough, Wikipedia revealed that Fields had written and starred in a
        1941 film called “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.” He had used the
        phrase several times before, first in a 1936 film called “Poppy,” and
        then in 1939′s “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man.”

        • toadaway

          Barnum was stealing Hannum’s show circa 1870.
          Field’s first use, according to your own account, happened in 1936.
          How does that make Field’s the first user?

          • Doris Stones Edwards

            I’m done with this conversation, which started in 2006. I just stating some facts. Do an online Search, and answer your own question. I don’t have time for this. If I could delete my comment, I would and save myself the aggravation.

          • the dark two

            Doris, you are an idiot plain and simple. I guess you believe everything you read on the internet….I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale if you’re interested????

          • Doris Stones Edwards

            Dark Two,…you are DARK. No wonder you hide your picture! You’re the only cyber bully asshole that I’ve had to merely tolerate in two decades. You don’t even know how to have a decent conversation without getting derogatory? Well, in Rome,…Get a life IDIOT, and just let it go! Or, no doubt you’ll have to add what you believe is a brilliant and assuming comeback. My final response at this point is, FUCK OFF you intolerable jerk and moron!

          • James Mays

            He’s a Democrat, Dude.

  • Steven J Reed

    People like Edwards is why the internet generation is screwed:

    1) quoting Wikipedia as fact
    2) refusing to accept they are wrong