Columbus’ egg refers to a discovery or amazing idea that seems simple or easy after the fact.
It relates to those things that look impossible to achieve until somebody proves that they are not. In other words, it’s easy when you know how.
Why is this called Columbus’ egg?
The story goes that certain Spanish noblemen were less than impressed by Columbus’ discovery of the America’s, saying that given time, anyone could have done it and that it took no great skill on his part.
Columbus didn’t take offence but realised he had a point to prove. He picked up an egg and waged that none of his dinner companions would be able to make it stand up on its end without any help.
Everybody tried without success until Columbus showed them how. He tapped it gently on the table slightly breaking it and then placed it on its end.
He showed that something might seem impossible but could in fact prove easier once you understand how it works.
So the moral of the story is that a task, project or challenge is only simple once you know how to do it or pull it off. Having the courage to try something new and being the first to succeed is what counts. He said,
Gentlemen, what is easier than to do this which you said was impossible? It is the simplest thing in the world. Anybody can do it—after he has been shown how.
This story is most often attributed to Girolamo Benzoni, who published an account of a Spanish banquet for Columbus after his return in 1565.
One of the many monuments to Columbus is a modernist egg sculpture by Julio Bauza in Ibiza.
In 1883, physicist Nikola Tesla, created an electro-magnetically driven device that made a brass egg stand up for the Chicago World’s Columbian Exhibition. Guess what he called it? The Egg of Columbus of course!