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 May 04, 2010
“The world owes me a living”

“The world owes me a living” is the old line that taxpayers seemingly heard whenever a person accepted a government handout. “The world owe me a living” is cited in print from at least 1829 and has been the subject of many essays, including one (below) by Horace Greeley of the New York (NY) Tribune. “Josh Billings” (the pen name of humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw, 1818-1885) used the saying and was often credited with it.
American clergyman and humorist Robert Jones Burdette (1844-1914) is credited with this popular variation from about 1900: “Don’t believe the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing—it was here first.”
“The world does not owe you anything. You are not a loan” was posted on Facebook by Indian Hills Community Sign on August 22, 2020.
Google Book
The Yale Book of Quotations
Edited by Fred R. Shapiro
newhaven, CT: Yale University Press
Pg. 114:
Robert Jones Burdette
U.S. clergyman and humorist, 1844-1914
“Don’t believe the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing—it was here first.”
Quoted in Evan Esar, The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations (1949)
The World Owes You Nothing, It Was Here First
Bumper Sticker
Google Books
1 January 1829, Children’s Magazine, vol. 1, no. 1, pg. 17:
Besides you have a living to make for yourself in the world—and though you may hear people say, “the world owes me a living,” yet let me tell you, my boy, the world does not pay its debts without much looking after; and you know, or ought to know, that God’s word says, “he that will not work, neither shall he eat”—and all your young days the good God gives you to learn how to make your livelihood, and how to live so as to please Him and get His blessing.
11 August 1830, Norwich (CT) Courier, “First and Last Ticket: from the Manuscript of a Concemned Criminal,” pg. 1:
“The world owes me a living, and a living I will have!” I said to myself, as I turned away with a despairing heart and walked up the street.
Google Books
May 1833, Atkinson’s Casket, pg. 212, col. 1:
‘The world owes me a living, and a living I will have;” I said to myself, as I turned away with despairing heart, and walked up the street. 
29 March 1842, New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth, NH), pg. 1, col. 5:
From the New York Tribune.

“The world owes me a good living, and I’ll have it” says some blackleg as he finishes a luxurious repast, “here, landlord, another bottle of your prime Madeira.”
Google Books
The life of Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune
By James Parton
New York, NY: Mason Brothers
Pg. 414:
“How owes? Have you earned it by good service? If you have, whether on the anvil or in the pulpit, as a toiler or a teacher, you have acquired a just right to a livelihood. But if you have eaten as much as you have earned, or—worse still—have done little or no good, the world owes you nothing. You may be worth millions, and able to enjoy every imaginary luxury without care or effort; but if you have done nothing to increase the sum of human comforts, instead of the world owing you anything, as fools have babbled, you are morally bankrupt and a beggar.”
Google Books
5 September 1857, The Latter-Day Saints’ Millennial Star, pg. 575:
THE WORLD OWES ME A LIVING.—That’s false, sir. it doesn’t owe you a farthing. You owe the world for the light of its days, the warmth of its sunshine, the beauty of its earth and sky, and for its love, affections, and friendships, which have from your childhood, young man, clustered around and hung to your worthless trunk. For all these and other countless numbers you are a debtor. You have never thanked God for life and health. You have never made the world better for your living. You owe for the health you breathe, and for the strength you enjoy. You haven’t anything to your credit on the daybook or ledger of life—not a cent. You have never taken a dollar’s stock in heaven. You are a miserable, aimless, indolent bankrupt. You float down the stream of your lazy existence like flood-wood on water. Were you to sink to-day to olbivion, you would not leave a bubble. The world owe you a living! Where is there a manly thought uttered or a noble deed performed> WHere are the evidence of your labour? Nowhere. You are lounging through life with your hands in your pockets, an indulent loafer, swearing and slavering nonsense. You drink, gamble, and chew otbacco, but never earned your board. A pile of lumber would be of more account, for that can be worked into forms of usefulness and beauty; but you will not make anything of yourself, or allow society to do it. A world of such as you would be the place to live in indeed! You have degraded our common manhood, instead of enobling and elevating it, and in nothing but the form and vulgar speech are you above the brutes that perish. And because you are too lazy to work you claim that the world owes you a living! No, sir; you owe the world a better life. You never can pay all the debt, but you can do no better than commute for twnety-five cents on the dollar. Do and say something noble and manly; labour for some honourable purpose, and not inhale God’s pure air for nothing, and grunt through existence like a hog, having only two aims in life—to reach the bar and the dinner table; only two attributes—to eat to gluttonym and drink to drunkenness. The world owes no such man a living.—Cayuga Chief.
Google Books
September 1869, The Ladie’s Repository, pg. 235, col. 2:
“OWES ME A LIVING.”—It is among men who try to get a living by some shift or trick of laziness that we hear the familiar words, “The world owes me a living.” A loafer who never did a useful thing in his life, who dresses at the expense of the tailor, and drinks at the cost of his friends, always insists that the world owes him a living, and declares his intention to secure the debt. I should like to know how it is that a man who owes the world for every mouthful he ever ate, and every garment he ever put on, should be so heavy a creditor to account with the world. The loafer lies about it. The world owes him nothing but a very rough coffin, and a retired and otherwise useless place to put it in. The world owes a living to those who are not able to earn one, to children, to the sick, to the disabled and the aged, to all who, in the course of nature or by force of circumstances, are dependent; and it was mainly forthe supply of the wants of these that men were endowed with the power to produce more than enough for themselves. To a genuine shirk the world owes nothing; and when he tells me with a whine that the world owes him a living, I am assured that he has the disposition of a highway robber, and lacks only his courage and his enterprise.—J. G. Holland.
Penn State University
2 January 1873, Waynesboro (PA) Village Record, “Billings Rezolushuns for 1873”:
That the world owes me a living — provided I earn it.
Google News Archive
17 March 1900, Fredericksburg (VA) Daily Star, pg. 2, col. 3 ad:
You are Mistaken
When you think the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing; it was here first.
(Johnston & Pearson—ed.)
Papers Past
13 October 1900, Taranaki (New Zealand) Herald, “Josh Billings’ Philosophy,” pg. 5:
“The world owes me a living.” There never was a more craven speech than this. The world owes no man a living unless he earns it.
Google Books
Wit and humor of well-known quotations
By Marshall Brown
Boston, MA: Small, Maynard & Co.
1905 [1904]
Pg. 280:
Don’t believe the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing; it was here first. 
OCLC WorldCat record
This great big World owes me a Loving ... [Song.] Words by Andrew B. Sterling.
Author: Harry von Tilzer, pseud.
Publisher: New York : Harry Von Tilzer Music Publishing Co, [1916]
Edition/Format: Musical score
Google Books
24 october 1919, Spartanburg (SC) Herald, pg. 5, col. 5 ad:
You say, “The world owes me a living.”
Perhaps it does.
The only question is, how to collect it.
By taking care of your savings, you go a long way toward collecting what the world owes you. Let this Bank assist you.
(1st National Bank—ed.)
OCLC WorldCat record
The World owes nothing to me
Author: J Brockman; E Leslie; George Fairman
Publisher: ©1927.
Edition/Format: Musical score : English
OCLC WorldCat record
The World owes me a loving.
Author: C Conrad
Publisher: ©1932.
Edition/Format: Musical score : English
OCLC WorldCat record
The world owes me a living, by John Llewelyn Rhys.
Author: John Llewelyn Rhys
Publisher: London, Faber and Faber [1939]
Edition/Format: Book : Fiction : English
OCLC WorldCat record
Oh, the world owes me a living : does it?
Author: National Association of Manufacturers (U.S.)
Publisher: [New York?] : National Association of Manufacturers, [1951?]
Edition/Format: 2-D image : Graphic : English

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Military/Religion /Health • Tuesday, May 04, 2010 • Permalink

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