A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from December 26, 2009
“Half the money spent on advertising is wasted, but no one knows which half”

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” is a classic statement on advertising, credited to both John Wanamaker (1838-1922) and Lord Leverhulme (1851-1925). “One half of their advertising appropriations are wasted” is recorded in print from at least 1897.
The statement “Half of…but we don’t know which half” has had many extended uses beyond the field of advertising. A form of this statement (involving a person who lies) appears in James Boswell’s Life of (Samuel) Johnson, first published in 1791. Higher education (“Half of what we teach you here is wrong…”)—especially medical school—has used a form of the saying, often incorrectly attributed to Canadian physician William Osler (1849-1919).
[This entry was prepared with the assistance of the Quote Investigator, who found three early citations.]
Wikipedia: John Wanamaker
John (Nelson) Wanamaker (July 11, 1838 – December 12, 1922) was a much respected and admired United States merchant, religious leader, civic and political figure, considered the father of modern advertising. Wanamaker was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Popular saying illustrating how difficult it was to reach potential customers using traditional advertising is attributed to John Wanamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
Wikipedia: William Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme
William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme, Bt, (19 September 1851 – 7 May 1925) was an English Industrialist, philanthropist and colonialist.
William Lever is often named in marketing circles in respect of the famous quotation concerning advertising, namely: “Half my advertising money is wasted. The problem is that I don’t know which half!”
Google Books
The Quote Verifier:
Who said what, where, and when

By Ralph Keyes
New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
Pg. 1:
“Half the money I spend on ADVERTISING is wasted. The trouble is I don’t know which half.”
In the United States this business truism is (Pg. 2—ed.) most often attributed to department store magnet John Wanamaker (1838-1922), in England to Lord Leverhulme (William H. Lever, founder of Lever brothers, 1851-1925).
Verdict: A maxim of obscure origins, put in famous mouths.
Variations on the “but we don’t know which half” line
I first heard it attributed to a University of Chicago President addressing an incoming Freshman class: “Half of everything we teach you is wrong… unfortunately, we don’t know which half.” But it appears to have an even longer history in advertising.
Google Books
The life of Samuel Johnson:
Comprehending an account of his studies and numerous works in chronological order; a series of his epistolary correspondence and conversations with many eminent persons; and various original pieces of his composition never before published

By James Boswell
London: Printed for T. Cadell
Pg. 180:
I mentioned Lord Mansfield’s having said to me, “Suppose we believe one half of what he tells.”
JOHNSON. “Ay; but we don’t know which half to believe. By his lying we lose not only our reverence for him, but all comfort in his conversation.”
Google Books
October 1897, Gunton’s Magazine, pg. i ad:
Many of them admit, freely but helplessly, that one half of their advertising appropriations are wasted.
17 March 1898, New-York (NY) Daily Tribune, “Value of Advertising,” pg. 3, col. 4:
Robert C. Ogden, the resident partner of the firm of John Wanamaker, delivered a forceful and convincing address yesterday at the second meeting of the convention of the Merchants’ Association of New-York, on “Advertising as a Business Force.”
“Another experience that goes largely in ordinary advertising is the waste of money. There have been many calculations concerning the vast sums of money expended upon advertising in this country. I do not recall what theur magnitude is, but the figures compiled by intelligent observers are really astounding. I think if we could manage to analyze that expenditure of money we would find that a vast percentage of it, probably one-half, is entirely wasted. One reason for this waste is that the advertiser does not regard his advertising with sufficient seriousness. If he would take it more seriously, he would study its principles and its methods, and would save a great deal of money.”
Google Books
April 1898, The Bankers Magazine, pg. 549:
Robert C. Ogden head of the house of John Wanamaker in New York made an address before the Merchants’ Association March 16, on “Advertising as a Business Force.” Mr. Ogden said that the success of business depended upon three things, merchandise, service and advertising, and he looked upon the latter as the dynamic power of the business. (...) He believed that fully fifty per cent. of the money spent on advertising was wasted through being improperly placed.
Google Books
Golden Book of the Wanamaker Stores:
Jubilee Year: 1861-1911

Compiled by the John Wanamaker Firm
Philadelphia, PA: John Wanamaker
Pg. 216:
It is generally known that common advertising is like barrels of seed in which half of the seed is dead.
(“Not penned by the Founder himself, but chronicled from the deeds and services of the stores, as public prints and contemporary memories disclose the story”—ed.)
Google Books
Winona echoes: a book of sermons and addresses delivered at the Annual Bible Conference, Winona Lake, Indiana
By Bible Conference
Winona Lake, IN: Committee on Publication
Pg. 333:
John Wanamaker once said, “I am convinced that about one-half the money I spend for advertising is wasted, but I have never been able to decide which half.”
Google Books
November 1920, The Advertising Age and Mail Order Journal, “Magazine and Billboards, Maybe,” pg. 8:
“It has been said,” remarks an exchange, “that one-half of all the money spent for advertising is wasted, but no one knows which half it is.”
Google Books
Second Essays on Advertising
By James Murray Allison
London: E. Benn Ltd.
Pg. X:
My father, whose faith in the advertising of proprietary articles was unquestioned, used to say that probably half of every advertising appropriation was wasted, but nobody had been able to say which half it was!
Google Books
April 1930, The Rotarian, pg. 58, col. 2:
But let us also remember John Wanamaker’s famous dictum — that while half the money spent for advertising is wasted, no one can ever tell which half.
Google Books
The Family: a dynamic interpretation
By Willard Waller and Reuben Hill
New York, NY: Cordon
Pg. 127:
JOHN WANAMAKER is supposed to have said that he had spent a million dollars on advertising and that half of it had been wasted, while the other half had made him rich, but he did not know which half was which.
Google Books
Proceedings of the Fourth American Forest Congress
By American Forestry Association
v. 4 - 1953
Pg. 213:
But here at the close of my paper I have a very important confession to make, one that I understand a dean of a medical school made to his graduating doctors. “Half of what I have told you is not so. But that’s not what’s disturbing me. I don’t know which half that is.”
Google Books
Madison Avenue, U.S.A.:
The inside story pf American advertising

By Martin Meyer
New York, NY: Penguin Books
Pg. 257:
“I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but I can never find out which half.”
John Wanamaker
Google News Archive
25 April 1958, Glasgow (Scotland) Herald, pg. 13, col. 4:
The first Lord Leverhulme used to say that half his advertising was wasted, but he never knew which half.
Google Books
3 October 1960, Life magazine, pg. 114, col. 2:
Senator Taft’s principal fundraiser estimated that half the money spent in politics was wasted, although he could not figure out which half it was.
25 October 1960, New York (NY) Times, “Advertising: Charges Are Filed by F.T.C.” by Robert Alden, pg. 55:
Wanamaker is credited with having said: ‘Half the money I spend as advertising is wasted. But I have never been able to to figure out just which half.”
Google Books
23 June 1961, Life magazine, “The New Frontier” by Howard Mumford Jones, pg. 59:
According to legend the dean of the medical school (Harvard—ed.) once cheered an entering class by informing them, “Gentlemen, half of what we teach you here will be wrong. The difficulty is, we don’t know which half.”
Google News Archive
2 December 1963, Lawrence (KS) Journal-World, “Robert Frost Maybe Doubted JFK Could Rule With Margin” by Leonard Lyons, pg. 4, col. 5:
“Both parties spent $175 million in 1960. At least half of that was wasted—but we don’t know which half.”
Google News Archive
18 November 1971, Milwaukee (WI) Journal, Green Sheet, pg. 1, col. 2:
“I’m pretty sure half of what I do isn’t worth doing—but I don’t know which half.”
Google News Archive
16 November 1980, Pittsburgh (PA) Press, Pittsburgh’s Family Magazine, pg. 2, col. 4:
As the famous surgeon Sir William Osler said to his medical students around the turn of the century, “Half of everything I have taught you is incorrect. The only trouble is I don’t know which half.”
New York (NY) Times
Home Births Are Safer Than Hospital Births; On Medical Education
Published: June 29, 1995
To the Editor:
Your June 25 Week in Review article on medical fads by my former surgery professor Sherwin B. Nuland brings to mind the Sidney Burwell aphorism we were taught at Yale in the 1980’s: “Half of everything you learn in medical school is wrong. The problem is figuring out which half.”
DAN A. OREN , M.D. Rockville, Md., June 25, 1995
Google Books
The Oxford Companion to Medicine
By Stephen Lock, John M Last and George Dunea
Oxford: Oxford University Press
Pg. 698:
Every first year medical school class is greeted by a sobering quotation, although the speaker usually doesn’t know its origin:
Half of what you are taught as medical students will in ten years have been shown to be wrong, and the trouble is, none of your teachers knows which half.
C. Sydney Burwell (1893-1967), British Medical Journal 2, 113, 1956
Many a lecture, learned talk, research presentation, journal article, or clinical presentation carries at least one quotation from an authority in the recent or distant past. Never mind that it is often inaccurate, and perhaps attributed to someone else—the point is made and strengthened by the voice of an authority. If Osler didn’t say it, well, he certainly could have.
Harvard Medical School
In Speech to Grads, Dean Flier Urges Openness to Change, Readiness for Action
(June 5, 2008) — In his keynote address at the 2008 graduation ceremony on the Harvard Medical School Quad, Dean Jeffrey Flier noted the spirit of change that marked the occasion for both the graduates and himself:...
Still we should keep in mind the words of a former leader of HMS, Dr. C. Sidney Burwell, who was dean from 1935 to ’49. At an HMS graduation in the late 1940s, he said “…Half of what we have taught you is wrong. Unfortunately, we don’t know which half.” Though this quip may cause us to laugh, it is surely still true today.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityBanking/Finance/Insurance • Saturday, December 26, 2009 • Permalink

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