The following quotation is widely attributed to Albert Einstein:
"As a young man, my fondest dream was to become a geographer. However, while working in the Customs Office, I thought deeply about the matter and concluded that it was far too difficult a subject. With some reluctance, I then turned to physics as an alternative."
Did he ever say it? No. Nor did he ever work in the Customs Office. (He worked in the Patent Office.) In an article in the Toronto Star
, Sharon Burnside traces how the quotation became attributed to Einstein in the first place. Apparently it was actually written by Duane Marble, a faculty member at New York State University, who, a few decades ago, posted the quotation on his office door as a joke directed at the Physics faculty who worked in the same building with him. From there it spread until it became an official Einstein quote. It was finally debunked in 1997 in a series of columns in GIS World
written by Jerry Dobson.
I found the Toronto Star article via Craig Silverman's Regret The Error
. Craig says that he's thinking of creating a master list of erroneous attributions. If so, he should definitely add to his list the famous P.T. Barnum quotation "There's a sucker born every minute."
Barnum always swore he never said it. No one is sure exactly who did say it, but a leading theory is that it was said by the owners of the Cardiff Giant
who were annoyed that Barnum's fake Cardiff Giant was getting more attention than their 'real' one.
Another erroneous quotation is "It's not who votes that counts; it's who counts the votes."
Often attributed to Joseph Stalin, although there's no evidence he ever said it. It's not known who did say it.