I learned something new today. I had thought “There’s a sucker born every minute.” was said by P. T. Barnum, but it turns out it was said by David Hannum, his competitor in the Cardiff Giant craze.
The Cardiff Giant was the most talked about exhibit in the nation. Barnum wanted the giant to display himself while the attraction was still a hot topic of the day. Rather than upping his offer, Barnum hired a crew of workers to carve a giant of his own. Within a short time, Barnum unveiled HIS giant and proclaimed that Hannum had sold Barnum the original giant and that Hannum was now displaying a fake! Thousands of people flocked to see Barnum’s giant. Many newspapers carried the version that Barnum had given them; that is, Hannum’s giant was a fake and Barnum’s was authentic. It is at this point that Hannum — NOT BARNUM — was quoted as saying “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Hannum, still under the impression that HIS giant was authentic, was referring to the thousands of “fools” that paid money to see Barnum’s fake and not his authentic one.
Hannum brought a lawsuit against Barnum for calling his giant a fake. When it came to trial, Hull stepped forward and confessed that the Cardiff Giant was a hoax and the entire story. The judge ruled that Barnum could not be sued for calling Hannum’s giant a fake since it was a fake after all. Thereafter, Hannum’s name was lost to history while Barnum was left with the misplaced stigma of being the one to say “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
It’s also worth noting that the American people were gullible fools back in 1868 that ate up the improbable Cardiff Giant hoax. And also, the press was both soft-headed in credulously reporting on the Giant and also willing to stir up controversy and hype up a story. Quite similar to today’s press.