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


  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)

The Architect’s Most Effective Tools Are the Eraser in the Drafting Room and the Wrecking Bar on the Job

Frank Lloyd Wright? Edgar Tafel? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I was reading a book about software design, and the author emphasized the importance of detecting and fixing errors quickly. The following quotation was presented:

You can use an eraser on the drafting table or a sledgehammer on the construction site.

The statement was attributed to the innovative major architect Frank Lloyd Wright, but I have been unable to locate a proper citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that the expression above was probably not spoken or written by Frank Lloyd Wright. But he did make a remark that displayed several points of similarity; hence, the statement above probably evolved from an accurate quotation.

The earliest pertinent instance located by QI was published in the 1965 biographical work “Frank Lloyd Wright: America’s Greatest Architect” by Herbert Jacobs. The author was in frequent contact with Wright for twenty-five years as client, friend, and reporter. Indeed, Wright designed and built two houses for the author. Part of the book described the relationship between Wright and his apprentices. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

If Wright was passing by a drafting board, he might stop to note progress. The apprentice would leap to his feet and stand respectfully at the side while Wright eased himself onto the bench and took up pencil-and eraser.

“The architect’s two most important tools are: the eraser in the drafting room and the wrecking bar on the site,” he would say with a smile.

Wright died in 1959; thus, the text above was published posthumously. Nevertheless, QI believes the ascription was highly credible because of the author’s long relationship with Wright. The tool specified was a wrecking bar instead of a sledgehammer. Also, there was no implicit conditional ordering between the eraser and wrecking bar; both were deemed important.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Architect’s Most Effective Tools Are the Eraser in the Drafting Room and the Wrecking Bar on the Job


  1. 1965, Frank Lloyd Wright: America’s Greatest Architect by Herbert Jacobs, Chapter 12: Taliesin Accents Youth, Quote Page 139, Harcourt, Brace & World, New York. (Verified on paper)

Television Is Chewing Gum for the Eyes

Frank Lloyd Wright? John Mason Brown? Henri Peyre? Fred Allen? Dick Cavett? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The most acerbic criticism I have heard directed at TV was attributed to the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright:

Television is just chewing gum for the eyes.

However, I recently saw the remark credited to a drama critic named John Mason Brown. Could you explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this vivid metaphor located by QI appeared in a 1944 book by Henri Peyre who was a Professor of French at Yale University. In 1944 television sets were still very expensive, and the industry was immature in the U.S. The metaphor was applied to movies and radio broadcasts instead. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Yet there is no sorrier sight to watch then the vacant faces of those former high school and college students when, at thirty-five or fifty, all their mental alertness having vanished, the spark gone from their eyes, they dutifully chew their gum to keep from yawning, while absorbing the chewing gum for the eyes of the movies or the chewing gum for the ears of the radio.

The same men who once read Shakespeare, Molière, Byron glance at the headlines of their tabloid papers, turn straight to the page of the funnies, to devour them with the same dutiful sense of boredom as they swallow their hamburger at lunchtime and their highball after dinner.

More than a decade later this figurative language was applied to another communication medium. In January 1955 Steven H. Scheur who was a well-known film critic visited the “book-lined New York apartment” of John Mason Brown who was a prominent theater critic. They discussed the quality of the programs broadcast on television. Brown applied the chewing-gum metaphor to TV: 2

Although Brown is generally recognized as our most eminent theater essayist—Saturday Review of Literature—he confesses to a special partiality for TV news shows.

“So much of TV seems to be chewing gum for the eyes. … TV desperately needs more self-reliance and pride in the medium.”

By 1958 the remark was being credited to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Television Is Chewing Gum for the Eyes


  1. 1944, Writers and Their Critics: A Study of Misunderstanding by Henri Peyre (Sterling Professor of French at Yale University), Quote Page 291, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1955 January 21, Syracuse Herald-Journal, Ed Murrow To Call on Critic Brown by Steven H. Scheur, Quote Page 32, Column 1, Syracuse, New York. (NewspaperArchive)

A Man Is a Fool If He Drinks Before He Reaches Fifty, and a Fool If He Doesn’t Drink Afterward

Frank Lloyd Wright? William Faulkner? The Elder Gross? Charles Seiberling? Charles Douville Coburn? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The celebrated and innovative architect Frank Lloyd Wright is credited with the following remark about alcohol consumption:

A man is a fool if he drinks before he reaches the age of 50, and a fool if he doesn’t afterward.

Recently, I found a very similar saying attributed to the major literary figure William Faulkner:

But a man shouldn’t fool with booze until he’s fifty; then he’s a damnfool if he doesn’t.

Are these quotations accurate? Is it possible that one of these individuals heard it from the other? Perhaps this saying predates Wright and Faulkner. Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The quotations ascribed to Frank Lloyd Wright and William Faulkner are well-founded and detailed citations for them are given further below.

The idea that drinking in the early decades of life might attenuate its long-term pleasurability can be found in the eighteenth century. Here is an example in a Salem, Massachusetts newspaper in 1792 where the age of demarcation was thirty. Boldface has been added to some excerpts: 1

Do you think that singing boys take great delight in music? Satiety makes it rather tedious to them. He who drinks before he is thirty, can take no great pleasure in drinking.

By 1900 a statement matching the sayings used by Wright and Faulkner was in circulation. The guideline was offered as medical advice during the Annual Meeting of the American Social Science Association: 2

The best judges of the proper use or abuse of alcohol are medical men, who carefully note causes and effect. I would rather have personally observed facts than whole tomes of theories. In youth alcohol is of no benefit: it is harmful. In the aged it is a blessing, if used properly. Some one has said, “A man is a fool who drinks before he is fifty, and a blank fool who does not do so moderately thereafter.” Whiskey should be taken by the aged when overcome with fatigue and before taking food, as a tired man has a tired stomach; and a small portion of the stimulant will lift up the vitality and make good digestion possible.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Man Is a Fool If He Drinks Before He Reaches Fifty, and a Fool If He Doesn’t Drink Afterward


  1. 1792 September 11, Salem Gazette, Volume VI, Number 309, An Extract, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Salem, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1900 December, Journal of Social Science, Number 38, Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the American Social Science Association Held in Washington, D.C. on May 7 to May 11, 1900, (Comments at the close of the morning session of the Department of Education and Art on May 9, 1900), Start Page 125, Quote Page 127 and 128, Published for the American Social Science Association by Damrell & Upham and the Boston Book Company, Boston, Massachusetts and G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Google Books full view) link

The Architect Can Only Advise His Client to Plant Vines

Frank Lloyd Wright? Herbert Hoover? Arch Oboler? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: When I was a child I saw a gallery of images showing a house built at the top of a waterfall. I fell in love with that house, called Fallingwater, and later learned that it was built by the extraordinary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The amusing quote I would like you to investigate was listed in a biographical sketch that I read many years ago and still remember:

The doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.

Does this accurately depict Wright’s sense of humor or was it invented by someone else?

Quote Investigator: I agree that Fallingwater is a beautiful home. The quote you provide is very similar to a statement made by Wright in a lecture published in 1931. The address was titled “To the Young Man in Architecture” and near the end of the discourse Wright presented a series of fourteen pithy numbered points. Here are three: 1

9. Abandon as poison the American idea of the “quick turnover.” To get into practice “half-baked” is to sell out your birthright as an architect for a mess of pottage, or to die pretending to be an architect.

10. Take time to prepare. Ten years’ preparation for preliminaries to architectural practice is little enough for any architect who would rise “above the belt” in true architectural appreciation or practice.

11. Then go as far away as possible from home to build your first buildings. The physician can bury his mistakes,—but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines.

Wright used the term “physician” instead of “doctor” in this original version. The quotation was further disseminated when an excerpt from the lecture was reprinted in the periodical “The Architect and Engineer” in November of 1931. Wright enjoyed the joke and used it multiple times over the years. 2

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Architect Can Only Advise His Client to Plant Vines


  1. 1931, Two Lectures on Architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright, To the Young Man in Architecture, (Start Lecture Page 33), Page 62, The Art institute of Chicago,  The Lakeside Press, R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, Chicago. (HathiTrust) link
  2. 1931 November, The Architect and Engineer, Thumb Tacks and T-Square, Page 13, Column 3, Architect and Engineer, San Francisco, California. (Verified with scans; Many thanks to the Library Assistant at the Architecture Library of Georgia Tech)