Category Archives: Henry Ford

Knowing Where To Tap

A Fired Machinist? Charles R. Wiers? Hubert N. Alyea? Charles Proteus Steinmetz? Henry Ford? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular anecdote highlights the extraordinary value of properly applying specialized knowledge. A top-expert is hired to fix a gigantic complicated machine suffering from an intractable problem. The adroit practitioner repairs the contraption with a simple action such as a hammer tap or a bolt twist, but the bill for services rendered is quite large. Are you familiar with this tale? Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance located by QI appeared in “The Journal of the Society of Estate Clerks of Works” of Winchester, England in 1908. The bill below was denominated in pounds and shillings. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A MORAL WITH AN ENDING.

He was the best machinist in the district, and it was for that reason that the manager had overlooked his private delinquencies. But at last even his patience was exhausted, and he was told to go, and another man reigned in his stead at the end of the room.

And then the machine, as though in protest, refused to budge an inch, and all the factory hands were idle. Everyone who knew the difference between a machine and a turnip tried his hand at the inert mass of iron. But the machine, metaphorically speaking, laughed at them, and the manager sent for the discharged employee. And he left the comfort of the “Bull” parlour and came.

He looked at the machine for some moments, and talked to it as a man talks to a horse, and then climbed into its vitals and called for a hammer. There was the sound of a “tap-tap-tap,” and in a moment the wheels were spinning, and the man was returning to the “Bull” parlour.

And in the course of time the mill-owner had a bill:–“To mending machine, £10. 10s.” And the owner of the works, being as owners go, a poor man, sent a polite note to the man, in which he asked him if he thought tapping a machine with a hammer worth ten guineas. And then he had another bill:—“To tapping machine with hammer, 10s.; to knowing where to tap it, £10; total, £10. 10s.”

And the man was reinstated in his position, and was so grateful that he turned teetotaller and lived a great and virtuous old age. And the moral is that a little knowledge is worth a deal of labour.

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Notes:

  1. 1908 February 1, The Journal of the Society of Estate Clerks of Works, Volume 21. A Moral with an Ending, Quote Page 30, Printed and Published for the Society of Estate Clerks of Works at the “Hampshire Observer” Printing Works, Winchester, England. (Google Books Full View) link

If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done, You Always Get What You’ve Always Gotten

Henry Ford? Jessie Potter? Dayle K. Maloney? Cathy Bolger? Susan Jeffers? Jackie “Moms” Mabley? Tony Robbins? Anonymous?

do12Dear Quote Investigator: Why do people repeat foolish, ineffective, or self-destructive behaviors? Self-help books contain an adage about the consequences of thoughtless repetition. Here are three versions:

1) If you do what you’ve always done you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

2) If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

3) If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you will keep getting what you’ve always gotten.

This saying has been credited to the automotive tycoon Henry Ford and the motivational speaker Tony Robbins. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The important reference work “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” from Yale University Press has an entry for this expression. Interestingly, researchers have only been able to trace it back to the 1980s. 1

The earliest instance located by QI appeared in “The Milwaukee Sentinel” of Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1981. The speaker was an educator and counselor on family relationships and human sexuality named Jessie Potter who worked for a non-profit organization she founded. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.” That was the advice of Jessie Potter, the featured speaker at Friday’s opening of the seventh annual Woman to Woman conference.

The director of the National Institute for Human Relationships in Oak Lawn, Ill., Ms. Potter drew on anecdotes and frank comments about sex and love in asserting that change is needed in the American way of growing up, falling in love, raising a family and growing old.

The phrasing of the adage is highly variable; hence, it has been difficult to trace. The linkage to Henry Ford who died in 1947 appears to be spurious. Jessie Potter helped to popularize the saying, and she may have coined it, but uncertainty remains.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Quote Page 57, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1981 October 24, The Milwaukee Sentinel, Search For Quality Called Key To Life by Tom Ahern, Quote Page 5, Column 5, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Google News Archive)

Thinking Is the Hardest Work There Is, which Is the Probable Reason Why So Few Engage In It

Henry Ford? Apocryphal?

thinker08Dear Quote Investigator: The automotive titan Henry Ford reportedly crafted a humorous and insightful remark about thinking. Here are three versions:

1) Thinking is hard work. That may be the reason so few engage in it.
2) Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.
3) Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few people engage in it.

I haven’t been able to find the saying in Ford’s writings or in an interview. Also, I’ve seen several different expressions attributed to Ford. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In April 1928 a journal called “The Forum” published an interview with Henry Ford who commented on the apparent increase in the complexity and rapidity of life. Ford was skeptical about whether there had been a commensurate increase in thought. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

But there is a question in my mind whether, with all this speeding up of our everyday activities, there is any more real thinking. Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few engage in it.

Hence, Ford did make a remark that strongly matched the second statement provided by the questioner, but there was a slight difference. Ford said “the probable” instead of “probably the”. It also matched the third statement with the word “people” deleted.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1928 April, The Forum, Volume 79, Number 4, My Philosophy of Industry by Henry Ford, Interview conducted by Fay Leone Faurote, Start Page 481, Quote Page 481, The Forum Publishing Company, New York. (Verified on microfilm)

Failure Is Only the Opportunity More Intelligently To Begin Again

Henry Ford? Samuel Crowther? Apocryphal?

henry07Dear Quote Investigator: The failure of a project is often disheartening, but some self-help and inspirational texts highlight a quotation that presents a positive interpretation to the setback:

Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.

This statement has been attributed to the assembly-line innovator and industrial titan Henry Ford, but I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: In 1922 Henry Ford in collaboration with Samuel Crowther released an autobiographical volume titled “My Life and Work”. In the introductory section Ford outlined four principles for his organization, and the saying appeared in the discussion of the first principle; however, the phrasing was different and somewhat clumsier. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The institution that we have erected is performing a service. That is the only reason I have for talking about it. The principles of that service are these:

1. An absence of fear of the future and of veneration for the past. One who fears the future, who fears failure, limits his activities. Failure is only the opportunity more intelligently to begin again. There is no disgrace in honest failure; there is disgrace in fearing to fail. What is past is useful only as it suggests ways and means for progress.

The principles were important to Ford, and he repeated them in the concluding section of the book. 2

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Notes:

  1. 1922 Copyright, My Life and Work by Henry Ford in collaboration with Samuel Crowther, Section: Introduction, Quote Page 19 and 20, Garden City Publishing Company, Garden City, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1922 Copyright, My Life and Work by Henry Ford in collaboration with Samuel Crowther, Section: Introduction, Quote Page 273, Garden City Publishing Company, Garden City, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

I’d Put My Money on the Sun and Solar Energy

Thomas Edison? James D. Newton? Apocryphal?

thomas12Dear Quote Investigator: A fascinatingly prescient remark about energy has been attributed to the famous inventor and entrepreneur Thomas Edison:

I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.

Edison died in 1931, and these words sound almost too futuristic to me. Is this an accurate quotation?

Quote Investigator: In 1987 the book “Uncommon Friends: Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel, & Charles Lindbergh” was published. The author James D. Newton was a friend of each one of these prominent figures from history.

Many of the discussions and incidents described in the book occurred decades before the publication date. To support their veracity Newton stated that he kept contemporaneous notes: 1

I have not had to rely on my memory alone to record the events, anecdotes, and conversations in which I took part with my friends over a period of nearly fifty years. Fortunately, during most of that time I kept a diary in which I noted times and places, key phrases, and vivid impressions. I also relied on publications by and about my friends, which jogged my memory.

Newton described a conversation between Thomas Edison, automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, and tire manufacturer Harvey Firestone. Edison began with a provocative remark about the possible depletion of resources in the future. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

“We are like tenant farmers, chopping down the fence around our house for fuel, when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy—sun, wind, and tide.”

Firestone responded that oil and coal and wood couldn’t last forever. They’d been tackling rubber. He wondered how much hard research was going into harnessing the wind, for example. Windmills hadn’t changed much in a thousand years.”

Ford said there were enormously powerful tides—for example, the Bay of Fundy. Scientists had only been playing with the question so far.

Edison said, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait till oil and coal run out before we tackle that. I wish I had more years left!”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1987, Uncommon Friends: Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel, & Charles Lindbergh by James D. Newton (James Draper Newton), Quote Page ix, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, San Diego, California. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1987, Uncommon Friends: Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel, & Charles Lindbergh by James D. Newton (James Draper Newton), Quote Page 31, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, San Diego, California. (Verified on paper)

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.

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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)

Whether You Believe You Can Do a Thing or Not, You Are Right

Henry Ford? Virgil? John Dryden? John Herbert Phillips? Del Howard? Harlowe B. Andrews? Norman Vincent Peale? Mary Kay Ash? Apocryphal?

ford11
Dear Quote Investigator: An aphorism highlighting the power of positive thinking and warning about the danger of negative thinking has often been attributed to automotive titan Henry Ford. Here are four versions:

Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.
Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.
If you think you can or think you can’t, either way you are right.
If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.

Did Ford really craft this adage? The saying has also been linked to Mary Kay Ash who created a cosmetics empire and Norman Vincent Peale who emphasized positive thinking in his self-help and religious writings.

Quote Investigator: In September 1947 the influential mass-circulation magazine “The Reader’s Digest” published the following freestanding quotation. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.
— Henry Ford

This was the earliest strong match for the statement found by QI. Henry Ford died in April 1947; hence, the adage was ascribed to him a few months after his death. Unfortunately, “The Reader’s Digest” did not provide any precise information about the source; hence, there is some residual uncertainty. During the following years the expression coupled with the Ford ascription was reprinted in other periodicals and newspapers.

Ideational precursors were in circulation long before 1947, but the phrasing was less concise and elegant. The evolution of these expressions will be presented below.

Top researcher Barry Popik and the key reference “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” have both examined questions in this topic area, and this entry, in part, builds on their valuable explorations. 2 3

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1947 September, The Reader’s Digest, Volume 51, (Filler item), Quote Page 64, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on paper)
  2. Website: The Big Apple, Article title: If you think you can, you can (Mary Kay Ash?), Date on website: September 24, 2007, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik on February 3, 2015) link
  3. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Page 256, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

My Customers Would Have Asked For a Faster Horse

Henry Ford? Edward Menge? Lewis Mumford? Sedgewick Seti? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The preeminent automotive industrialist Henry Ford is credited with a saying that has become very popular in the business literature:

If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

But I can find no good evidence that Ford ever said this. It’s a great line, though, and I am curious to know who came up with it.

Quote Investigator: The earliest linkage known to QI between the saying and Henry Ford appeared in “The Cruise Industry News Quarterly” in 1999. John McNeece, a cruise ship designer, speculated about the desires of Henry Ford’s potential customers. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

John McNeece: “There is a problem trying to figure out what people want by canvassing them. I mean, if Henry Ford canvassed people on whether or not he should build a motor car, they’d probably tell him what they really wanted was a faster horse.

Interestingly, the words above were not credited directly to Ford. The earliest ascription to Ford that QI has located appeared in a letter sent to the UK publication Marketing Week in 2001: 2

Being market-led implies being led by the consumer — and consumers are bad at coming up with innovations (Henry Ford’s quote: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse” springs to mind…)

Yet Henry Ford died in 1947, so the evidence connecting him to the quotation appears to be very weak. Oddly, Henry Ford’s great-grandson William Clay Ford Jr. used the remark in 2006 and indicated that the attribution was accurate.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1999 Summer, The Cruise Industry News Quarterly, Volume 9, Number 37, Article: Creating Cruise Ships with an Eye on Next Generation, Author: Greg Miller, Start Page 67, Quote Page 67, Publisher: Oivind Mathisen & Angela Reale Mathisen, New York. (Verified visually; thanks to the staff of Hubert Library of Florida International University)
  2. 2001 January 18, Marketing Week, Innovation: ‘breaks conventions’, [Letter from David Lowings, Chief executive, 42 consulting, Maidenhead], Centaur Media plc., London. (Accessed website marketingweek.co.uk on 2011 July 28) link