Did Henry Ford say
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.