In personal finance articles I frequently find quotes injected to attribute some further relevance to one's position.

Over the years, I've read Einstein quoted as saying that 'compound interest was one of man's greatest inventions', or other variations on this theme. In Tony Robbins recent tome (600 pages to write what would fit in a short magazine article) he offered this Einstein line. I'd like to know if it was made up or if Einstein ever said anything close to this.

FYI - Robbins' exact line was "Compound interest is such a powerful tool that Albert Einstein once called it the most important invention in all of human history."

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    The version I've heard is that "compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe." (Which explains why it is attributed to Einstein, who presumably was an expert on the universe's powerful forces.) – Nate Eldredge Jan 7 '15 at 1:42
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    "When you got a reputation of a genius, you need to get used to people misquoting you on all kinds of matters, even those which are as far away from your area as expertise as they can possibly be" - Albert Einstein – Philipp Jan 7 '15 at 8:46
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    And Aristotle once said: "Never trust citations on the internet!" – Alexander Jan 7 '15 at 9:49
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    @Alexander I've usually seen that quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Are you sure it was Aristotle? – Michael A Jan 7 '15 at 15:04
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    @MichaelA "This quote [about citations on the internet] is frequently attributed to Lincoln, but he once told me that he has actually read it in an essay written by Aristotle" - Sun Tzu "The Art of War" – Philipp Jan 7 '15 at 15:24
up vote 54 down vote accepted

It's Unlikely that Einstein ever said this.

The snopes page on this quote claims that the earliest reference to it is in a 1983 New York Times column:

EINSTEIN REVISITED

Asked once what the greatest invention of all times was, Albert Einstein is said to have replied, ''compound interest.'' His playful sense of humor and other aspects of his personality -as well as his genius - form the subject of a bus tour Sunday to the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, N.J., where the physicist worked during the last 20 years of his life. [...]

(Emphasis mine)


I managed to find an earlier version of this quote from 1978 in Bank Performance Annual, Warren, Gorham & Lamont, 1978, p509:

1978 version of compound interest quote

Given that Einstein died in 1955, it is still unlikely that it is attributable to him. Einstein is a common target for mis-attributed quotes due to being a widely recognised "genius" figure.


While it's not an attributed quote, this "fun" question from the back of The American Mathematical Monthly, Vol. 46, No. 9, Nov., 1939, p595, invites readers to show off their Einsteinian skills by determining what has stumped mathematicians:

enter image description here

(The correct answer is d, and sadly not compound interest). Could it have been a question like this which was the seed from which the (likely) mis-attributed quote grew?


Quote investigator also found some earlier quotes claiming that compound interest is the "greatest invention", but none of them involve Einstein in any way until well after his death.

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