Kites Rise Against and Not With the Wind. Even a Head Wind Is Better than None

Winston Churchill? John Neal? Henry W. Davis? Chinese Proverb? Lewis Mumford? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: An individual who faces opposition can grow in strength and resilience. This notion has been brilliantly expressed via a metaphorical kite in the wind. Here are three versions:

  1. Kites rise highest against the wind—not with it.
  2. Opposition is a great help to a man. Kites rise against and not with the wind.
  3. A kite can only rise against the wind. The best thing in a young man’s life is often adversity.

The first remark has been ascribed to the famous British leader Winston Churchill. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This saying is not present in the comprehensive quotation collection “In His Own Words: Churchill By Himself” compiled by Richard M. Langworth. 1 Churchill died in 1965 at age 90, and QI has located attributions to the statesman in 1963. However, the origins of the saying are much older than this.

In 1846 author and critic John Neal published an essay titled “Enterprise and Perseverance” in the “Weekly Mirror” 2 of New York City. In the following days and months the popular piece was reprinted in several other periodicals including the “Portland Advertiser” in Maine. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

There are people, who, having began life, by setting their boat against wind and tide, are always complaining of their bad luck, and always just ready to give up and for that very reason are always helpless and good for nothing, and yet, if they would persevere, hard as it may be, to work up steam all your life long, they would have their reward at last. Good voyages are made both ways!

A certain amount of opposition is a great help to a man. Kites rise against not with the wind. Even a head wind is better than nothing. No man ever worked his voyage anywhere in a dead calm.

Neal’s essay presented an eloquent instantiation of the metaphor which was remembered and cited by many during the ensuing years, yet the beginnings of this figurative framework can be traced further back in time.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Kites Rise Against and Not With the Wind. Even a Head Wind Is Better than None

Notes:

  1. 2013 (Kindle Edition), In His Own Words: Churchill By Himself by Winston S. Churchill, Compiled and edited by Richard M. Langworth, (No search match for “kite” or “kites”) RosettaBooks. (Verified with Kindle Ebook)
  2. 1846 January 31, The Evening Mirror, (Listing of contents for the “Weekly Mirror” of January 31, 1846 mentions: “Original Essay, — Enterprise and Perseverance by John Neal”; QI has not directly verified the essay text within a scan of the “Weekly Mirror”), Quote Page 2, Column 1, New York, New York. (Old Fulton)
  3. 1846 February 3, Portland Advertiser, Enterprise and Perseverance by John Neal, (Acknowledgement to N.Y. Mirror), Quote Page 3, Column 2, Portland, Maine. (GenealogyBank)

My Customers Would Have Asked For a Faster Horse

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:

If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

But I can find no good evidence that Ford ever said this. It’s a great line, though, 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.

Continue reading My Customers Would Have Asked For a Faster Horse

Notes:

  1. 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)
  2. 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