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.

On April 13, 1928 the “San Francisco Chronicle” of San Francisco, California published an article titled “Thinking Is Hardest Work, Therefore Few Engage in It” by Henry Ford. 2 The article consisted of a long excerpt from Ford’s piece in “The Forum” which was acknowledged. The quotation was further disseminated because it was included in the excerpt.

On January 11, 1929 “The Montana Standard” of Butte, Montana commented on Ford’s essay and printed an instance of the saying that slightly differed from the original by using the phrase “probably the”: 3

And here is one for the younger men standing at the threshold of business and industry to cogitate: “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”

In February 1929 the “San Francisco Chronicle” printed a variant of the saying using the phrase “hard work” instead of “hardest work”. The words were credited to Ford. The same variant was printed in “The Greenfield Daily Reporter” of Greenfield, Indiana in March 1929 and other papers: 4 5

“Thinking is hard work. That may be the reason so few engage in it.”—Henry Ford.

In 1941 “The Morning Herald” of Uniontown, Pennsylvania linked the adage to a local person: 6

DO YOU AGREE—Patrolman Orangle Show, the oracle of the Uniontown police force, utters a little homely philosophy that . . . “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason so few engage in it.”

In May 1941 “The Rolla Herald” of Rolla, Missouri printed a variant containing the word “kind” as a filler item: 7

Henry Ford Says:
Thinking is the hardest kind of work — which is probably the reason so few engage in it.

In 1952 the columnist Franklin Pierce Adams placed an instance in his collection called the “FPA Book of Quotations”. The phrasing and attribution were correct, but the year specified for Ford’s interview was off by one: 8

Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few engage in it.
—HENRY FORD (1863-1947) Interview, 1929

In conclusion, Henry Ford did craft the adage given in the April 1928 issue of “The Forum”. Several variants have evolved over the years.

Image Notes: Picture of Henry Ford with a Model T automobile circa 1921; accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Picture of a copy of Rodin’s The Thinker (Le Penseur) in bronze from gdugas at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Rosa Maria Ferrao whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

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)
  2. 1928 April 13, San Francisco Chronicle, Thinking Is Hardest Work, Therefore Few Engage in It, Henry Ford in The Forum, Quote Page 25, Column 6, San Francisco, California. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1929 January 11, The Montana Standard, Ford’s Philosophy, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Butte, Montana. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1929 February 26, San Francisco Chronicle, Section: Editorial Page, Opinions, Quote Page 26, Column 2, San Francisco, California. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1929 March 9, The Greenfield Daily Reporter, Some Remarks, Quote Page 3, Column 4, Greenfield, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1941 February 1, The Morning Herald, The Match Box Today, by P.E.C. Jr. and Staff, Quote Page 6, Column 3, Uniontown, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1941 May 1, The Rolla Herald, (Filler item), Quote Page 8, Column 4, Rolla, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1952, FPA Book of Quotations, Selected by Franklin Pierce Adams, Section: Thought, Quote Page 785, Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York. (Verified on paper)