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.
- 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) ↩