Man Will Atrophy All His Limbs But the Push-Button Finger

Frank Lloyd Wright? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A simple finger touch can make a phone call, play music, summon a taxi, obtain a weather forecast, pay a bill, and perform countless other tasks via apps. The famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright feared that in the future all of our body parts would atrophy except the finger. Would you please help me to find a citation for the comment he made on this subject?

Quote Investigator: In 1955 when Wright was 85 years old “Newsweek” reported that he delivered a lecture to an overflow audience at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Massachusetts. He made provocative remarks on several topics. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

New York: “Prison towers and modern posters for soap and whisky.”

Pittsburgh: “Abandon it.”

Centralization: “If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.




In 1957 James Beasley Simpson published a collection of contemporary remarks titled “Best Quotes of ’54 ’55 ’56”. The comment by Wright was included together with other statements that had been printed in “Newsweek”. Oddly, the reference cited “The New York Times”. Yet, a search within the newspaper’s ProQuest database indicated no match: 2

“Clear out eight hundred thousand people and preserve it as a museum piece.”

Frank Lloyd Wright, a suggestion for disposal of Boston, Massachusetts, during a lecture in Boston, The New York Times Magazine, November 27, 1955.
. . .

“Centralization: If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger.”
Frank Lloyd Wright. Ibid

“Civilization: Art and religion are the soul of our civilization. Go to them, for there love exists.”
Frank Lloyd Wright. Ibid.

In 1965 the comment continued to circulate in an Arlington Heights, Illinois newspaper within a feature titled “Who Said It?”: 3

And then there was the woman who told her husband, “Be an angel and let me drive.” He did and he is.—Bob Goddard.

If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger. — Frank Lloyd Wright.

In 1979 Barbara Rowes included the remark in her compilation titled “The Book of Quotes”. 4

In 2014 a newspaper in Springfield, Missouri printed a slight variant: 5

Frank Lloyd Wright said, “If automation keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger.”

In conclusion, in 1955 Frank Lloyd Wright did make a humorously perceptive prediction about the push-button finger.

Image Notes: Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright from the 1966 U.S. stamp. Picture of finger touching a “go” button from HebiFot at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to John S. whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Dana Dalrymple of the Spokane Public Library who precisely located the 1955 citation based on an incomplete citation. Additional thanks to discussants Donna Halper, Barbara Schmidt, Sue Kamm, Wilson Gray, and Joel Berson.)

Notes:

  1. 1955 May 16, Newsweek, The Atomic Mr. Wright, Quote Page 98, Column 2 and 3, Newsweek, Inc., New York. (Verified with scans; thanks to Spokane Public Library, Spokane, Washington)
  2. 1957, Best Quotes of ’54 ’55 ’56, Compiled by James Beasley Simpson, Section: Personalities, Quote Page 190, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1965 July 22, Arlington Heights Herald, Section: Suburban Living, Who Said It?, Unnumbered Page, Column 3, Arlington Heights, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1979, The Book of Quotes, Compiled by Barbara Rowes, Quote Page 13, A Sunrise Book: E. P. Dutton, New York. (Verified on paper)
  5. 2014 December 14, Sunday Springfield News-Leader, Push them as hard as you are able in bridge by Phillip Alder (Newspaper Enterprise Association Columnist), Quote Page 3C, Column 3, Springfield, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)