‘The Greatest Showman on Earth’ was a spectacular film recounting the life of Phineas Taylor Barnum, more commonly referred to as P. T. Barnum of Barnum and Bailey Circus. There is this ‘rags to riches’ story that surrounds Barnum, and it appeals to people looking for the ideals in American culture. Who was this showman, and what can these P. T. Barnum quotes reveal about the man who made a fortune off oddities and humbugs?
P. T. Barnum got his start in the show business world by ‘leasing’ an old black woman who he portrayed as George Washington’s nurse. Slavery was illegal in New York and Pennsylvania at the time, but he exploited a loophole, even borrowing the money to do so, which contradicts a later quote he made about going into debt.
This was not the only act that Barnum billed as something it was not. He viewed this practice as ‘marketing,’ once saying, “I don’t believe in duping the public but I believe in first attracting and then pleasing them.”
Keep reading for more thoughts from P. T. Barnum about money, success, and hard work.
P. T. Barnum quotes about money
1. “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.” ― P. T. Barnum
2. “The foundation of success in life is good health: that is the substratum fortune; it is also the basis of happiness. A person cannot accumulate a fortune very well when he is sick.” ― P. T. Barnum
3. “Young men starting in life should avoid running into debt. There is scarcely anything that drags a person down like debt. It is a slavish position to get ill, yet we find many a young man, hardly out of his ‘teens,’ running in debt. He meets a chum and says, Look at this: I have got trusted for a new suit of clothes. He seems to look upon the clothes as so much given to him; well, it frequently is so, but if he succeeds in paying and then gets trusted again, he is adopting a habit which will keep him in poverty through life. Debt robs a man of his self-respect and makes him almost despise himself.” ― P. T. Barnum
4. “Money is, in some respects, like fire. It is a very excellent servant, but a terrible master.” ― P. T. Barnum
5. “Fortune always favors the brave and never helps a man who does not help himself.” ― P. T. Barnum
6. “The history of money-getting, which is commerce, is a history of civilization, and wherever trade has flourished most, there, too, have art and science produced the noblest fruits. In fact, as a general thing, money-getters are the benefactors of our race. To them, in a great measure, are we indebted for our institutions of learning and of art, our academies, colleges, and churches?” ― P. T. Barnum
7. “The old proverb is full of truth and meaning, “Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.” Many a man acquires a fortune by doing his business thoroughly, while his neighbor remains poor for life because he only half does it. Ambition, energy, industry, perseverance, are indispensable requisites for success in business.” ― P. T. Barnum
8. “Remember the proverb of Solomon: He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand, but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.” ― P. T. Barnum
9. “True economy consists in always making the income exceed the out-go. Wear the old clothes a little longer if necessary; dispense with the new pair of gloves; mend the old dress: live on plainer food if need be; so that, under all circumstances, unless some unforeseen accident occurs, there will be a margin in favor of the income.” ― P. T. Barnum
P. T. Barnum quotes about success and progress
10. “Unless a man enters upon the vocation intended for him by nature, and best suited to his peculiar genius, he cannot succeed.” ― P. T. Barnum
11. “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.” ― P. T. Barnum
12. “Comfort is the enemy of progress.” ― P. T. Barnum
13. “The possession of a perfect knowledge of your business is an absolute necessity in order to ensure success.” ― P. T. Barnum
14. “The safest plan, and the one most sure of success for the young man starting in life, is to select the vocation which is most congenial to his tastes.” ― P. T. Barnum
15. “Dr. Franklin says, “it is the eyes of others and not our own eyes which ruin us. If all the world were blind except myself I should not care for fine clothes or furniture.” ― P. T. Barnum
16. “Let your motto then always be ‘Excelsior’, for by living up to it there is no such word as fail.” ― P. T. Barnum
17. “Unless a man enters upon the vocation intended for him by nature, and best suited to his peculiar genius, he cannot succeed.” ― P. T. Barnum
18. “Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung.” ― P. T. Barnum
19. “Politeness and civility are the best capital ever invested in business. Large stores, gilt signs, flaming advertisements, will all prove unavailing if you or your employees treat your patrons abruptly. The truth is, the more kind and liberal a man is, the more generous will be the patronage bestowed upon him.” ― P. T. Barnum
If you’re enjoying these quotes, make sure to read our collection of motivational quotes for employees about the power of a great team.
20. “No man has a right to expect to succeed in life unless he understands his business, and nobody can understand his business thoroughly unless he learns it by personal application and experience.”― P. T. Barnum
Wise P. T. Barnum quotes
21. “The noblest art is that of making others happy.” ― P. T. Barnum
22. “No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.” ― P. T. Barnum
23. “Be cautious and bold.” ― P. T. Barnum
24. “Advertising is to a genuine article what manure is to land – it largely increases the product.” ― P. T. Barnum
25. “I will loose my camel, and trust it to God!” ― P. T. Barnum
26. “Writing lives forever, while you may not.” ― P. T. Barnum
27. “Exposing an illusion is not the same as revealing a truth.” ― P. T. Barnum
28. “We agreed that many a human life is sacrificed in sudden anger because one or both the parties carry deadly weapons.” ― P. T. Barnum
29. “The public very properly shun all whose integrity is doubted. No matter how polite and pleasant and accommodating a man may be, none of us dare to deal with him if we suspect ‘false weights and measures.’” ― P. T. Barnum
30. “Literature is one of the most interesting and significant expressions of humanity.” ― P. T. Barnum
31. “A lovely nook of forest scenery, or a grand rock, like a beautiful woman, depends for much of its attractiveness upon the attendance sense of freedom from whatever is low; upon a sense of purity and of romance.” ― P. T. Barnum
32. “To me, there is no picture so beautiful as smiling, bright-eyed, happy children; no music so sweet as their clear and ringing laughter.” ― P. T. Barnum
33. “Men, women, and children who cannot live on gravity alone need something to satisfy their gayer, lighter moods and hours, and he who ministers to this want is, in my opinion, in a business established by the Creator of our nature. If he worthily fulfills his mission and amuses without corrupting, he need never feel that he has lived in vain.” ― P. T. Barnum
P. T. Barnum quotes about working hard
34. “WHATEVER YOU DO, DO IT WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT Work at it, if necessary, early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unturned, and never deferring for a single hour that which can be done just as well now.” ― P. T. Barnum
35. “Work hard, think hard, be honest, and spend little – this will ‘make common gold.’” ― P. T. Barnum
36. “Unless a man enters upon the vocation intended for him by nature, and best suited to his peculiar genius, he cannot succeed.” ― P. T. Barnum
37. “Without promotion, something terrible happens… nothing!” ― P. T. Barnum
38. “There is no such thing in the world as luck. There never was a man who could go out in the morning and find a purse full of gold in the street to-day, and another to-morrow, and so on, day after day: He may do so once in his life; but so far as mere luck is concerned, he is as liable to lose it as to find it.” ― P. T. Barnum
39. “Every man should make his son or daughter learn some useful trade or profession, so that in these days of changing fortunes of being rich today and poor tomorrow they may have something tangible to fall back upon. This provision might save many persons from misery, who by some unexpected turn of fortune have lost all their means.” ― P. T. Barnum
40. “In the United States, where we have more land than people, it is not at all difficult for persons in good health to make money.” ― P. T. Barnum
Cynical and blunt P. T. Barnum quotes
41. “There’s a sucker born every minute.” ― P. T. Barnum
42. “The best kind of charity is to help those who are willing to help themselves.” ― P. T. Barnum
43. “The greatest humbug of all is the man who believes—or pretends to believe—that everything and everybody are humbugs.” ― P. T. Barnum
44. “In my temperance speeches, I have frequently been interrupted and sometimes interrogated by opponents. I always take things coolly, let them have their say, and endeavor to give them a ‘Roland for an Oliver.’” ― P. T. Barnum
45. “Every crowd has a silver lining.” ― P. T. Barnum
46. Science is the pursuit of pure truth and the systematizing of it. ― P. T. Barnum
47. “Politics and government are certainly among the most important of practical human interests.” ― P. T. Barnum
48. “The show business has all phases and grades of dignity, from the exhibition of a monkey to the exposition of that highest art in music or the drama which secures for the gifted artists a worldwide-fame, princes well might envy.” ― P. T. Barnum
49. “As a general thing, I have not ‘duped the world’ nor attempted to do so… I have generally given people the worth of their money twice told.” ― P. T. Barnum
50. “Medicine is the means by which we poor feeble creatures try to keep from dying or aching.” ― P. T. Barnum
Which of these P. T. Barnum quotes is your favorite?
It is likely that he never said his most famous quote, “There is a sucker born every minute,” as no one can attribute it to him. Despite the cynicism of that quote and the decisions he made, he also had some wise and inspirational things to say.
While he may not have been the person who the movie portrayed him to be, he made a living doing what he loved. He also made people laugh and smile.
That is something that we can all aspire to do, hopefully by using more moral methods. Follow your dreams and fuel your passions into something that sustains you.
Do what you can to make other people forget their troubles for a moment and smile. Spreading joy and laughter, if even to one other person, can make the world a better place.
Which of these P. T. Barnum quotes and sayings is your favorite? Do you have any other inspirational quotes to add? Let us know in the comment section below.
December 9, 2020 7:00 AM EST