When Two Men in Business Always Agree, One of Them Is Unnecessary

William Wrigley Jr.? Ezra Pound? Henry Ford? Apocryphal?

wrigley09

Dear Quote Investigator: Constructive debate about future plans is essential in a responsive and vibrant company. Here are three versions of a popular business adage:

When two men in a business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.
When two men in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.
When two men always agree, one of them is unnecessary.

This expression has been ascribed to the poet Ezra Pound, the industrialist Henry Ford, and the businessman William Wrigley Jr. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive support for crediting the saying to Ezra Pound or Henry Ford. Attributions to Pound and Ford appeared only in the 21st century.

William Wrigley Jr. built a company and a fortune by selling chewing gum in the United States and around the world. In 1931 Wrigley was interviewed in “The American Magazine” and stated that he preferred an employee with backbone who was willing to challenge him and sometimes tell him “I think you’re wrong”.

The article titled “Spunk Never Cost a Man a Job Worth Having” reported that Wrigley disliked the yes-man who reflexively concurred with all his statements. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Likewise, one of the biggest pests in business is the carbon copy—the fellow who always says: “Yes, Mr. Wrigley, you’re absolutely right.”

Perhaps meaning: “Have it your own way, you old buzzard, what do I care!”

Business is built by men who care—care enough to disagree, fight it out to a finish, get facts. When two men always agree, one of them is unnecessary.

The passage above was the earliest strong match known to QI. The topic was business, but the statement did not include the word “business”.

Thanks to top-notch researcher Barry Popik who obtained the database evidence that pointed to the citation above.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1894 a journal based in Chicago, Illinois that advocated electoral reform criticized a system in which two individuals were selected to represent the same group of people. The complaint thematically overlapped Wrigley’s later remark, but the subject matter and emphasis was different: 2

But above all there is the fundamental objection that it is impossible to have a perfect system of popular government when two agents of the people are deputied to do the same thing. If they agree, one is unnecessary; if they disagree, both do not represent the people.

In March 1931 “The American Magazine” published the following comment from Wrigley as noted previously:

When two men always agree, one of them is unnecessary.

The magazine article caught the eye of some newspaper editors and excerpts which included the quotation appeared in the “New Castle News” of New Castle, Pennsylvania in August 1931, 3 and in the “Belvidere Daily Republican” of Belvidere, Illinois in October 1932. 4

In July 1940 the mass-circulation periodical “Reader’s Digest” printed an instance of the saying as a filler item. This version included the phrase “in a business” and was ascribed to Wrigley. Historically, “Reader’s Digest” has often functioned as an important locus for the distribution of a quotation: 5

When two men in a business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.
—William Wrigley, Jr.

In 1961 a columnist in the “Indiana Evening Gazette” of Indiana, Pennsylvania printed an alternate wording for the phrase while accepting critical feedback from a reader. No attribution was given for the “old maxim”: 6

We believe in the old maxim, “When two persons never disagree, one of them is unnecessary.” We welcomed your criticism.

In 1964 a compilation of quotations and maxims titled “Distilled Wisdom” included an instance with the phrase “in business” instead of “in a business”: 7

When two men in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.
—WILLIAM WRIGLEY, JR.

In 1968 “The Forbes Scrapbook of Thoughts on the Business of Life” included the following entry: 8

When two men in a business always agree, one of them is unnecessary. — William Wrigley, Jr.

In 2003 the adage was included in a book about software development, and the words were implausibly attributed to automobile magnate Henry Ford who had died decades earlier in 1947: 9

As Henry Ford once remarked, “Whenever two people always agree, one of them is unnecessary.”

In 2014 an article on the website of “Inc.” magazine titled “64 Inspirational Quotes for Entrepreneurs” included an instance of the adage with an unlikely attribution to the famous poet Ezra Pound who died in 1972: 10

“When two men in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.” –Ezra Pound

In conclusion, QI suggests that William Wrigley Jr. should be credited with the words recorded in “The American Magazine” in 1931. QI further suggests that the saying should not be assigned to Ezra Pound or Henry Ford.

Image Notes: Illustration depicting three packs of gum from an advertisement in the June 26, 1920 edition of “The Literary Digest”. Portrait of William Wrigley Jr. from the cover of “Time” magazine in 1929 via Wikimedia Commons. No Copying symbol created by combining two graphics: red diagonal bar symbol from OpenClips on Pixabay; duplicate symbol from Nemo on Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Mike Polen and Gary Rogers whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Many thanks to Charles Doyle who accessed the important 1931 citation. Special thanks to Barry Popik who found a blind match in the 1931 volume of “The American Magazine” in the Hathi Trust database.)

Notes:

  1. March 1931, The American Magazine, Volume 111, Number 3, Spunk Never Cost a Man a Job Worth Having by Neil M. Clark, Start Page 63, Quote Page 63, Published by The Crowell Publishing Company, Springfield, Ohio. (Verified with scans thanks to Charles Doyle and the University of Georgia library system)
  2. 1894 September, The Proportional Representation Review: A Quarterly Magazine Devoted to the Reformation of the Method of Electing Representatives, Volume 2, Number 5, Section: The Dual Legislative Body, Quote Page 17, Published by The American Proportional Representation League, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1931 August 4, New Castle News, Hints and Dints: Spunk, Quote Page 4, Column 3, New Castle, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1932 October 24, Belvidere Daily Republican, Don’t Always Say Yes to Your Boss, Quote Page 3, Column 6, Belvidere, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1940 July, Reader’s Digest, Volume 37, (Freestanding filler item), Quote Page 55, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on paper)
  6. 1961 November 14, Indiana Evening Gazette (The Indiana Gazette), Inside Indiana by Bill Hastings, Section 2, Quote Page 1, Column 1, Indiana, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1964, Distilled Wisdom, Compiled and Edited by Alfred Armand Montapert, Topic: Agree, Quote Page 12, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified with scans)
  8. 1968, The Forbes Scrapbook of Thoughts on the Business of Life by Forbes Magazine, Quote Page 196, Published by Forbes, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  9. 2003, The Laws of Software Process: A New Model for the Production and Management of Software by Philip G. Armour, Quote Page 95, Published by CRC Press: Taylor & Francis Group, Boca Raton, Florida. (Google Books Preview)
  10. Website: Inc.com, Article title: 64 Inspirational Quotes for Entrepreneurs, Article author: Jim Belosic, Article date on website: December 19, 2014, Website description: Website for the magazine Inc. from Mansueto Ventures publishing company. (Accessed inc.com on April 5, 2015) link