The quote "There is no substitute for hard work" is widely attributed to Thomas Edison, however, is anyone able to locate an original source of the quote?

  • 1
    Can you point to a reference which attributes this quote to Edison? While I've heard the quote, I don't specifically recall it being attributed to him.
    – Jamiec
    Sep 15, 2015 at 10:33
  • related meta: meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/3192/…
    – Jamiec
    Sep 15, 2015 at 12:37
  • I have heard other similar quotes attributed to Edison, though I don't recall that one. He is widely credited with "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration". Aug 3, 2018 at 12:33
  • And I would point out that "There is no substitute for hard work" is such a straight-forward and, dare I say, "obvious" sentiment that it was likely invented (in some other language) about 2000 BC. It seems pointless to search for an "origin". Aug 4, 2018 at 1:46

1 Answer 1


The earliest attribution to Edison I see is in the 1925 New Yorker:

Thomas A. Edison once said, “There is no substitute for hard work.”

However earlier references make clear that it was James J. Hill.

For example, in the article Handling Men For the Big Results System March 1908 it is stated:

"There's no substitute for hard work in business," says James J. Hill

And earlier, in the article J. J. Hill to Young Men The Hope Pioneer 26 September 1901:

There is no substitute for hard work in winning success

There is a more detailed account in James J. Hill's Rules The World's Work January 1917:

a letter which he wrote in 1882 to Mr. Stephens which says "...There is no substitute for hard work, and the value of a railway is its capacity to earn money"

But even Hill was probably not the first to say this. The 5 October 1880 Memphis Daily Appeal printed an address of Dr. Julius Wise to students of the Memphis Hospital Medical College:

Bear in mind gentlemen, that there is no substitute for hard work

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