Why do we say "There's a sucker born every minute.

Well-Known Expressions

There's a sucker born every minute

Meaning:

There is no shortage of naive people ready to become victims of frauds and cheats.

Background:

This expression appears to have originated in the USA around 1850 and is often attributed to P.T. Barnum (1810-1891). However, there is actually no evidence that Barnum said this.

Arthur Saxon, author of P.T. Barnum: The Legend and the Man (1989) spent more than three years collecting over 3,000 letters that Phineas Taylor Barnum sent to friends and business associates and concluded that while Barnum loved pranks he always considered his audience to be on on the joke. For instance, once he was offered the opportunity to purchase an extraordinary "cherry-colored cat" sight unseen. On being presented with the cat he observed that it was black; to which the seller responded, "some cherries are black." Barnum then put the cat on show with great fanfare much to the amusement of audiences who were delighted to discover - and keep - Barnum's secret!

Arthur H. Saxon, a noted circus historian who lives near Fairfield Beach, believes so. He came to this conclusion after spending the last three years collecting more than 3,000 letters that Phineas Taylor Barnum had sent to friends and business associates.

Biographer Arthur Saxon observes that although Barnum loved pranks, even at his own expense, he always considered his audience to be in on the joke. For instance, after he pounced on an opportunity to purchase an extraordinary “cherry-colored cat,” sight unseen, he quickly realized he had been duped: The cat was black. Nonetheless, the seller’s witty response pleased him: “No sir, some cherries are black.” Barnum displayed the cat with great fanfare, and audiences delighted in discovering and keeping Barnum’s secret.

Barnum saw himself as a respectable community leader tating in one letter that, ''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. The Mermaid, Woolly Horse, Ploughing Elephant were merely used by me in advertising to attract attention.''

He was a passionate advocate of temperance and suppported both women's rights and abolition. He was also, apparently, an honest and effective politician serving in the Connecticut state legislature from 1865 to 1867, and as mayor of Bridgeport in 1875. He was also a founding trustee of Tufts University to which he endowed an expansive museum of natural history, including the stuffed hide of the circus's famous elephant, Jumbo. Jumbo the Elephant remains the university's mascot to this day.

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