Henry Ford? Edward Menge? Lewis Mumford? Sedgewick Seti? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The preeminent automotive industrialist Henry Ford is credited with a saying that has become very popular in the business literature. Here are two versions:
- If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
- If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.
But I can find no good evidence that Ford ever said this. It’s a great line, and I am curious to know who came up with it.
Quote Investigator: The earliest linkage known to QI between the saying and Henry Ford appeared in “The Cruise Industry News Quarterly” in 1999. John McNeece, a cruise ship designer, speculated about the desires of Henry Ford’s potential customers. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
John McNeece: “There is a problem trying to figure out what people want by canvassing them. I mean, if Henry Ford canvassed people on whether or not he should build a motor car, they’d probably tell him what they really wanted was a faster horse.
Interestingly, the words above were not credited directly to Ford. The earliest ascription to Ford that QI has located appeared in a letter sent to the UK publication Marketing Week in 2001: 2
Being market-led implies being led by the consumer — and consumers are bad at coming up with innovations (Henry Ford’s quote: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse” springs to mind…)
Yet Henry Ford died in 1947, so the evidence connecting him to the quotation appears to be very weak. Oddly, Henry Ford’s great-grandson William Clay Ford Jr. used the remark in 2006 and indicated that the attribution was accurate.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1999 Summer, The Cruise Industry News Quarterly, Volume 9, Number 37, Article: Creating Cruise Ships with an Eye on Next Generation, Author: Greg Miller, Start Page 67, Quote Page 67, Publisher: Oivind Mathisen & Angela Reale Mathisen, New York. (Verified visually; thanks to the staff of Hubert Library of Florida International University) ↩
- 2001 January 18, Marketing Week, Innovation: ‘breaks conventions’, [Letter from David Lowings, Chief executive, 42 consulting, Maidenhead], Centaur Media plc., London. (Accessed website marketingweek.co.uk on 2011 July 28) link ↩