One armed paper hanger refers to the figure in a popular colloquialism: Busier than a one-armed paper hanger, used for expressing the difficult situation one may be in, stuck in a tumult of responsibilities.
“One armed paper hanger” originates from the turn of the 20th century, with the first documented case of the phrase appearing in print in 1893, in the Proceedings of the Nineteenth Annual Meeting of the Michingan Gas Association.
Here, the author did not explicitly use “Busier than a one-armed paper hanger”, rather, he uses the image of the subject as a simile to the management of the gas company.
By the early 1900’s, the “One armed paper hanger” appeared in print on several occasions, including a 1906 mention in The Evening Star, as well as several mentions in other newspapers in the subsequent years.
By the 1920’s, the phrase was approaching the summit of its popularity, turning into a widespread colloquialism.
The “One armed paper hanger” was so popular, that it was even featured in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair exhibition of Robert Ripley: Ripley’s Odditorium, which is known today as the countrywide collection of museums in the United States, called Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, which still boast the proverbial “One armed paper hanger” on their display.
- Usingenglish.com – Busy as a one-armed paper hanger