Henry Ford’s most famous quote is often used to bolster the argument that innovation cannot be focus-grouped:
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
It is certainly a wonderful quote. But unfortunately, there’s no evidence that Henry Ford actually uttered those famous words. Patrick Vlaskovits, in a great Harvard Business Review blog post — Henry Ford, Innovation, and That “Faster Horse” Quote — does the due diligence to track down the source of this quote and determine its veracity, which he was unable to do. He also offers a brilliant lesson for innovators and entrepreneurs in finding the right balance between not allowing yourself to be dictated to by the potentially unthinking masses, and ignoring your customers completely. Vlaskovits explicitly advocates “continually testing your vision against reality,” something Mr. Ford failed to do.
The race is on
Back to that photograph up top. That’s Henry Ford himself on the left, in is first and only automobile race, against Alexender Winton, in 1901. Here’s what the label says, and what’s written on the back of the photo:
Printed on photograph: “By W.D. Benham, Detroit, 1918.”Label on front: “Ten Mile Race between Henry Ford (in No.4) and Alexander Winton at Old Blue Ribbon Race Track, East Jefferson Avenue opposite present site of Hudson Motor Car Company. October 10th 1901. Time 13 minutes, 23 4/5 seconds, 45.33 miles per hour. Ford won. Lee Cuson, mechanic. 999 built 2 years later.” Handwritten on back: “Henry Ford, Alexander Winton, 10 Mile Race, Gr. Pointe Track, Ford won in 13-23 4/5, Oct. 10, 1901. For full details see evening papers of above date or morning papers of Oct. 11, 1901.” [Source: Detroit Yes!]
For Ford, wining this race
“…won him $1,000 and a cut glass bowl that he kept in his home as a trophy. Upon Ford’s death in 1947 the bowl was inadvertently shipped out and sold. When knowledgeable officials realized the tragic error, they successfully tried to track it down, but it was lost forever.” [Source: Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame]
A “tragic error” indeed. Who knows if somebody out there will drink holiday punch this season from this lost glass bowl. The bowl that ‘Ol Henry Ford won in his first car race in 1901. As I have noted, Ford never raced again. Apparently, he found the experience of traveling that fast “terrifying.”
The Henry Ford Museum has a richly detailed history of this race and the car Ford build for it, which he named Sweepstakes: 1901 Ford Sweepstakes – The Race Car That Changed Everything.