Anecdote Origin: “Why Didn’t You Buy That From Me?” “You Never Asked Me.”

Henry Ford? Philip C. Gunion? Norval Hawkins? Apocryphal?

Vehicle advertisement from Marmon Motor Car Company in 1928

Question for Quote Investigator: Salespeople must directly and unambiguously request appropriate actions. This lesson is taught in an anecdote about a wealthy business magnate who purchased an expensive item. A friend of the magnate asked, “Why didn’t you buy that item from me?” The magnate replied “You never asked me.”

This tale has been told about industrialist Henry Ford. Different expensive items are mentioned in these stories including: a luxury automobile, a multi-million dollar insurance policy, and a large order of bolts. Would you please explore the provenance and authenticity of this story?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in March 1920 in “Printers’ Ink: A Journal for Advertisers” within an article by Philip C. Gunion who was the advertising manager at Hyatt Roller Bearing Company. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1

You have all had salesmen talk to you fifteen minutes, present a smooth-sounding story, but one that meant nothing to you, so that when they finished you didn’t know whether they wanted you to say “yes” or “no,” spend one dollar or a thousand.

An interesting story on this subject was recently told me by the vice-president of the Hyatt Roller Bearing Company. Henry Ford was in Indianapolis one day visiting the Marmon plant. Mr. Marmon in the course of the conversation asked him why he didn’t buy a Marmon Sedan. Ford replied, “You never asked me before—sure, send me one.”

Several weeks later the car was delivered in Detroit and caused a sensation among the Detroit automobile men. One of them, a representative of the Pierce-Arrow, went to Ford and said,

“Look here, Henry, you and I have been mighty good friends in the Detroit Automobile Club for a long time, why did you go down to Indianapolis and buy a car? You’re a fine patriotic Detroit citizen, why didn’t you buy a Pierce-Arrow from me?”

“Because you didn’t ask me to,” replied Ford.

Henry Ford was asked to buy two expensive items: a Marmon automobile and a Pierce-Arrow automobile. Gunion stated that Ford replied with slightly different versions of the payoff line to two separate people.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In April 1920 the article by Gunion was reprinted in the journal “Advertising & Selling” of New York.2 Thus, the tale achieved wider distribution.

In 1926 a concise version of the anecdote appeared in “Savings Bank Journal” of New York:3

Advertising has sold everything and as Henry Ford answered the statement of the friend who chastised him for not buying a car of his manufacture, “You never asked me.” The savings banker likewise has the problem of asking, through advertising, for the accounts that can be obtained.

In 1932 “Gas Appliance Merchandising” of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania published a short version of the tale which did not name the product:4

HENRY FORD one time made an important personal purchase. A friend who handled a competing line of similar merchandise heard of it and asked, “Henry, why didn’t you buy that from me?” and Mr. Ford replied, “You never asked me.”

In 1942 “Taxes: The Tax Magazine” published a version of the anecdote which was centered on an executive of the Ford Motor Company named Norval Hawkins instead of Henry Ford. Hawkins replaced his Model T with a Marmon:5

Immediately all his friends in General Motors, Chrysler, etc., started calling him to this effect: “We don’t blame you for getting a bigger, better car; but why, when you make your living in Detroit, couldn’t you have purchased a home-town product?”

To which Hawkins replied: “I was in Indianapolis last week, and the Marmon folks asked me to buy one of their cars. You never asked me.”

In 1947 “Printers’ Ink” published a version of the tale in which Henry Ford purchased an expensive insurance policy:6

One morning one of Mr. Ford’s best friends read in the Detroit Free Press that Henry Ford had just bought a million-dollar policy. He tore over to Ford’s office, rushed by his secretary and practically screamed. “Henry, why didn’t you buy that policy from me? You know I’m in the insurance business.” And the story goes that Henry Ford looked up at him and said in a very calm voice, “You never asked me.”

In 1953 “Quote: The Weekly Digest” printed a similar story in which Henry Ford purchased a large life insurance policy:7

The fact was noted in a Detroit newspaper. One of Ford’s lifelong acquaintances—an insurance representative—asked the industrialist why he had not bought the policy thru him. Ford replied simply: “You never asked me.”

In 1962 Victor O. Schwab published “How To Write a Good Advertisement: A Short Course in Copywriting” which included another version of the anecdote:8

Perhaps you remember the story about Henry Ford, Sr., talking with an old crony who suddenly asked him, “Henry, why don’t you ever buy any bolts from me?” “Heck, Joe,” Mr. Ford replied, “you never asked me!”

In 2002 “Fearless & Persuasive Speaking” by Ken Bradford printed the following version:9

An insurance agent, whom he had known for many years, once asked Henry Ford why he never got any of Ford’s business. Ford replied, “You never asked me.” As the saying goes, “If you don’t ask, you won’t get.”

In conclusion, the accuracy of this tale rests on the credibility of Philip C. Gunion who was an advertising manager at Hyatt Roller Bearing Company. Gunion was retelling a story he heard from the Vice President of the company. Hence, there is some uncertainty. The later stories about insurance policies and bolts are less credible. QI hypothesizes that these later tales evolved from the 1920 anecdote.  

Image Notes: Advertisement for a vehicle from Marmon Motor Car Company in 1928. This public domain image has been cropped and resized.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Carl Galletti whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.

  1. 1920 March 4, Printers’ Ink: A Journal for Advertisers, What Advertising Can Do for the Machinery Handling Association by P. C. Gunion (Advertising Manager Hyatt Roller Bearing Company),  Start Page 165, Quote Page 165, Printers’ Ink Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩︎
  2. 1920 April 17, Advertising & Selling, Why National Associations Need National Advertising by Philip C. Gunion (Advertising Manager Hyatt Roller Bearing Company), Start Page 38, Quote Page 38, Column 3, Advertising & Selling Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩︎
  3. 1926 February, Savings Bank Journal, Volume 6, Number 12, Borrowing Ideas from Competitors, Start Page 18, Quote Page 20, Column 1, The Natamsa Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩︎
  4. 1932 February, Gas Appliance Merchandising, New Gas Appliances and Aids for Dealers, And Another Tip, Start Page 21, Quote Page 22, Column 3, Robbins Publishing Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  5. 1942 January, Taxes: The Tax Magazine, Volume 20, Number 1, Talking Shop: Elementary by Lewis Gluick C.P.A., Start Page 40, Quote Page 40, Column 2, Commerce Clearing House, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  6. 1947 September 26, Printers’ Ink, Volume 220, Number 13, 10 rules for good letters by Edward N. Mayer (President of James Gray Inc.), Start Page 66, Quote Page 74, Column 3, Printers’ Ink Publishing Company, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  7. 1953 August 16, Quote: The Weekly Digest, Volume 26, Number 7, Topic: Salesmanship, (Anecdote from T Harry Thompson, Sales Mgt.), Quote Page 7, Column 2, Published by Droke House, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  8. 1962 Copyright, How To Write a Good Advertisement: A Short Course in Copywriting by Victor O. Schwab, Chapter 5: Ask For Action, Quote Page 91, Melvin Powers: Wilshire Book Company, North Hollywood, California. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  9. 2002, Fearless & Persuasive Speaking: A Communication Guide for Leaders by Ken Bradford, Chapter Nineteen: Persuasion, Quote Page 182, Pierce Publishers, Dallas, Texas. (Verified with scans) ↩︎