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Did Henry Ford say

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

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    It really wouldn't make much sense if he did say this. Ford didn't invent the automobile and they were in common use before he became a major player in the industry. The internal combustion powered automobile was pioneered in the 1880s. The Model-T didn't come out until after the turn of the century. – JimmyJames Mar 20 '17 at 13:45
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    @JimmyJames - that quote doesn't imply that he invented the car, he is credited for creating an immensely popular car (half the cars on the road were Model T's by 1918) that was very affordable (~$8000 in today's dollars). If he thought the public wanted faster horses, he could have been a horse breeder...instead, he gave the public what they really wanted: an affordable car that was easy to drive and maintain... and the public bought hundreds of thousands of them. – Johnny Mar 21 '17 at 5:50
  • @Johnny You are missing my point. Automobiles had existed for many decades. In fact Ford had already created and sold a car manufacturing company which became Cadillac. People didn't buy them because they were expensive, not because they preferred horses. Why would Ford think that people wouldn't understand the utility of owning a vehicle? He would have to be rather stupid or incredibly patronizing to have said that. – JimmyJames Mar 21 '17 at 16:41
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    @JimmyJames - I think you are missing the point of the quote. Nowhere in that quote is there a claim that Ford invented this. He's talking about existing market demand vs. bringing either new products, or products in a new way to market, if that is his quote. Basically, there may be huge demand for a product once it's available, but if the market doesn't currently exist, then, of course, there won't be existing demand. – PoloHoleSet Jun 22 '17 at 14:33
  • Seems to me it's about knee-jerk resistance to change because of comfort with status quo. – PoloHoleSet Jun 22 '17 at 14:39
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Proving a negative is always hard, but Patrick Vlaskovits wrote a post for Harvard Business Review titled Henry Ford, Innovation, and That “Faster Horse” Quote in which he says No.

My methodology consisted of searching the Google Books corpus, which shows that the quote doesn’t appear until:

2002 in “Beyond Disruption: Changing the Rules in the Marketplace” by Jean-Marie Dru
2003 in “Added Value: The Alchemy of Brand-led Growth” by Mark Sherrinton

In Ubiquitous Computing Fundamentals (2009), edited by John Krumm, in Chapter 6, titled “From GUI to UUI: Interfaces for Ubiquitous Computing” authored by Aaron Quigley, the quote is sourced to “The First Henry Ford: A Study in Personality and Business” (1970) by Anne Jardim.

A search of Jardim’s book turns up no mentions of the phrase “faster horse.”
I also purchased a copy of the book to read, and could not find the quote.

Tom Wood contacted the Henry Ford Museum to ask about the provenance of the quote. He received the following reply:

“In the past research on this topic has not yielded satisfactory results either for the researcher or the research staff. Mr. Ford wrote numerous articles for a variety of periodicals and newspapers and the quotes attributed to him were varied and often unsubstantiated.

Quote Investigator also fails to find attribution to Henry Ford.

Most other references on the web refer to this HBR post.


Copied from Malviolo's comment: The QI article gives an excellent evolution of the phrase, from an abstract condemnation, in 1947, of the idea that progress only occurs incrementally, to a 1971 hypothetical about consumer-research, to a mock-attribution to Ford in 1999, and finally an direct (but obviously false) attribution in 2001

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    Vlaskovits's post is also a good example on how to "prove a negative" on this site, according to the "original research" guidance. – Sklivvz Mar 19 '17 at 17:22
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    Please stop upvoting my answer. Vlaskovits did all the work and I get the credit ;-) – Jan Doggen Mar 20 '17 at 14:53
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The association of this saying with Henry Ford originated with a 1999 article in The Cruise Industry News Quarterly where it was stated:

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. ...

So originally this was a hypothetical statement about Henry Ford that warped into being a supposed quote.

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    Did people really want faster horses? If it had been me I would have wanted a horse that was easier to keep (no stable, no mess, no vet bills), nicer (horses bite and kick), having more endurance (horses need to rest and sleep, and they get old and die)... Ford got success by making his car not just cheaper than a horse, but much more convenient. – RedSonja Mar 27 '17 at 9:03
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No, that was Alex Sheshunoff alluding to the song Faster Horses by Tom T. Hall.

He was an old time cowboy, don't you understand
His eyes were sharp as razor blades, his face was leather tanned
His toes were pointed inward from a hangin' on a horse
He was an old philosopher of course
He was so thin I swear you could have used him for a whip
He had to drink a beer to keep his breeches on his hips
I knew I had to ask him about the mysteries of life
He spat between his boots and he replied

"It's faster horses
Younger women
Older whiskey
More money"

He smiled and all his teeth were covered with tobacco stains
He said, "It don't do men no good to pray for peace and rain"
"Peace and rain is just a way to say prosperity
And buffalo chips is all that means to me"
I told him I was a poet I was lookin' for the truth
I do not care for horses whiskey women or the loot
I said I was a writer, my soul was all on fire
He looked at me and he said you are a liar

"Son, it's faster horses
Younger women
Older whiskey
More money"

Well, I was disillusioned if I say the least
I grabbed him by the collar and I jerked him to his feet
There was somethin' cold and shiny laying by my head
So I started to believe the things he said
Well, my poet days're over and I'm back to bein' me
As I enjoy the peace and comfort of reality
If my boy ever asks me what it is that I have learned
I think that I will readily affirm

"Son, it's faster horses
Younger women
Older whiskey
More money"

According to the Senate record (1977):

Mr. [Alex] Sheshunoff:...we recently did a lot of market research on what bank customers really want from the banks they do business with. We asked them what they really wanted and what do you think is important, and what do you really want; and unfortunately, just as we were able to publish our market research, it was preempted by Mr. Tom T. Hall from Nashville, Tenn., when he said, faster horses, younger women and older whisky.

Senator McIntyre. Say that again, faster horses, younger women and older whisky ?

Mr. Sheshunoff. And more money.

enter image description here

Lyrics and album cover source

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    The "faster horses" in this context means faster racehorses, ones that were more likely to win races. The Ford "quote" was talking about what the general population, which at the time relied on horses for transportation, would have asked for: faster cart horses. – Malvolio Mar 17 '17 at 14:24
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    @Malvolio When Alex Sheshunoff said this before the Senate subcommittee, he was talking about asking banking customers what they want. So Tom Hall didn't mean it in the OP sense, but Alex Sheshunoff did. – DavePhD Mar 17 '17 at 14:45
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    This is meant in the same general sense, but isn't quite as perfect — it is people describing their desires in general rather than for banking, while the alleged Ford quote is about creativity, evolution vs. revolution, disruption, and so on. I can easily see this real quote being misremembered and slightly changed until it became the other, though. – mattdm Mar 17 '17 at 14:50
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    @DavePhD -- what Shushunoff was saying was that banking customers didn't care about banking, they wanted to have fun in life, gambling, drinking, and so forth. What Ford was (allegedly saying) was that transportation customers did care about transportation, but only envisioned incremental changes (faster horses and presumably trains) not revolutionary ones like newly universal personally owned automobiles. – Malvolio Mar 17 '17 at 14:52
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    @Malvolio I think there's another aspect of the quote beyond just "incremental change". When designing something for someone or solving their problem, they often present the wrong issue. For example, when asked what would help, they say "faster horses", but Ford recognized it as actually being "better transportation". Sometimes there's a disconnect between the perceived problem and the actual solution which requires one to seek the route of the problem, not just the layman's problem statement. – JMac Mar 17 '17 at 16:05

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