The Origin of "Lemons into Lemonade"

Marshall Wilder

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” This is a pretty common idiom in the English language, and it’s one you hear fairly often when you choose to “live on the bright side.” We all know how empowering it feels to turn a hurdle into a springboard; there’s a definite satisfaction in extracting something positive out of an otherwise rough situation.

But do you know where the phrase “lemons into lemonade” actually comes from? The saying is attributed to writer Elbert Hubbard. And it was inspired by the legacy of Marshall Pinckney Wilder, a highly successful American author and orator with dwarfism who lived in the late 19th century and led a life full of passion, optimism, and innovation.

Wilder was born in Geneva, New York, on September 19, 1859. When he was still a boy, Wilder’s family moved to Rochester, and it was there that Wilder gained local acclaim for his storytelling skills. At the age of 20, Wilder moved to New York City with the goal of becoming a full-time entertainer--and not in the form of a sideshow exhibit, which, in those days, was par-the-course for dwarves like Wilder. By day, Wilder earned a living as an ordinary file boy at a commercial firm. By night, he supplemented his income by performing humorous monologues for 50 cents a show (the equivalent of about $13 per admission ticket in today’s money).

Wilder’s determination took him from the drawing rooms of New York’s wealthy elite to stages across America. In 1883, he traveled to London, where his fan base grew to include members of the British royal family. Prince Albert Edward of Wales (more commonly known as King Edward VII of England) was reportedly such an enormous fan of Wilder that he attended nearly 20 of his performances. Wilder eventually added vaudeville to his repertoire, and in 1904, he embarked on a world tour to entertain folks on a global scale.

Over the course of his career, Wilder would author three books (“The People I've Smiled With” in 1899, “The Sunny Side of the Street” in 1905, and “Smiling Around the World” in 1908), edit humor compendiums, and even act in motion pictures. His charisma, wit, and joyful disposition earned him the adoration of both the public and his fellow performers. Wilder was known to shake the hand--and generously tip--everyone involved in his shows after the final curtain call. He closed all of his correspondences (and the forewords of his books) with the phrase, “Merrily Yours.”

By the time Wilder passed away in 1915, he’d earned a reputation as someone who, above all else, faced life's obstacles and his own adversities with a smile on his face and a song in his heart. It was this attitude that inspired Elbert Hubbard to say at Wilder’s memorial service, “He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade-stand." At Lisa’s Lemonade, Wilder is seen as a role model; we keep copies of his books in our office lobby, and we do our best to share his story whenever possible.

More than anything else, we believe in the power of positivity. We believe that optimism, joy, community, and love can create a spot brightness in this world of ours. And we believe in nourishing the body to help nourish the mind. Marshall Wilder was an American icon who achieved greatness despite his humble beginnings and less-than-ideal personal circumstances. That’s why we look to him for inspiration in everything we do.

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