”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

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Matt in California
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”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by Matt in California » Sun Oct 06, 2019 5:49 pm

I was looking up something and it quoted that Henry Ford made the famous color statement according to his autobiography. I had always heard on this forum there was no evidence that Ford said this. I found the following in his autobiography. See page 45 of the following: https://pdfbooks.co.za/library/HENRY_FO ... D_WORK.pdf
The salesmen were insistent on increasing the line. They listened to the 5
per cent., the special customers who could say what they wanted, and
forgot all about the 95 per cent. who just bought without making any
fuss. No business can improve unless it pays the closest possible
attention to complaints and suggestions. If there is any defect in
service then that must be instantly and rigorously investigated, but
when the suggestion is only as to style, one has to make sure whether it
is not merely a personal whim that is being voiced. Salesmen always want
to cater to whims instead of acquiring sufficient knowledge of their
product to be able to explain to the customer with the whim that what
they have will satisfy his every requirement–that is, of course,
provided what they have does satisfy these requirements.

Therefore in 1909 I announced one morning, without any previous warning,
that in the future we were going to build only one model, that the model
was going to be ”Model T,” and that the chassis would be exactly the
same for all cars, and I remarked:
”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as
it is black.”

I cannot say that any one agreed with me. The selling people could not
of course see the advantages that a single model would bring about in
production.
Now I can see people could question if this is true or false. Was Ford lying, or did the writer of the autobiography make it up. But it is much more difficult to prove that Ford did not say it. From my research this autobiography was originally published in 1922. It looks interesting! Perhaps when I retire I will make enough time to read this.

I am looking forward to comments! Actually I am home sick and feeling a bit contagious, so I would enjoy reading a spirited response;) But for now I will stick with what I seen here in black and white print, unless someone has a good reason for me not to read this.

Matt


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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by wayne sheldon » Sun Oct 06, 2019 6:26 pm

I have been a big fan of Henry's for a long time. But no man is entirely all good or all bad. The things he accomplished in his lifetime are as fantastic in scope and effects upon the whole of mankind as almost any other man ever before, or so far (and likely to be for a very long time to come!) since. But he could be a cruel taskmaster, and often took credit for accomplishments of those below him. I am sure that he must have said that statement more than a few times in his life. But did he say it first? Or was he repeating what someone in his marketing department said before he said it? I know what I have read by some of the best historians today on the life and times of the man called Henry Ford. And I tend to believe them myself. Even though I can't remember for certain who said what? However, let us see what comments others here can make.

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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by Humblej » Sun Oct 06, 2019 6:27 pm

I would have to think it is a biographers fabrication or error of attributing two different quotes to the same utterance.


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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by Gil Fitzhugh » Sun Oct 06, 2019 6:45 pm

Henry may have made that announcement about color in 1909, but he didn't get around to acting on it for 4 more years.


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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by Peter, Memphis TN » Sun Oct 06, 2019 7:19 pm

I'm always a bit skeptical about a quote attributed to someone in the past. This one, of course, is "part of history" according to many, but then, so is Caesar's quote: "All Gaul is divided into three parts." The correct quote would be "Gaul as a whole is divided into three parts." Not a lot different, but nevertheless not a correct quote.

These days, of course, we have video proof of what politicians say -- but they never include the context.

Now, for Henry's supposed quote: The "autobiography" from which the passage is reproduced was most likely written after Henry's death, as a compilation of facts and stories of the day. Probably some as a result of a personal interview, and some garnered from other sources.

There's one clue that strikes me quite plainly: The writer spelled the word 'color' with the British 'u' in it - "Colour". Henry would not have spelled it that way; he was educated with McGuffey's Reader. So, it isn't a TRUE autobiography. Ergo, Henry may have said it, or may not have.

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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by John iaccino » Sun Oct 06, 2019 7:47 pm

I doubt it was said in 1909. The reported reason for only black cars was due to the assembly line. Japan Black was the only color that would dry fast enough for the assembly line. Before the line, the bodies were dried on drying racks and then brought to the assembly area. The line started in 1913.


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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by Greg Griffin » Sun Oct 06, 2019 8:20 pm

If you want spirited discussion, this ought to start things rolling....

Let me state right off the bat that I can not cite references other than to say that all of what follows was gleaned from this forum, posted by others who did cite (and often post copies of) their references. I believe these things to be factual, popular mythology notwithstanding.

1. Model T Fords were not painted black until calendar year 1915, and then only the open cars were black. The closed cars were painted blue until about the 1917 model year. (Simplified-but-not-inaccurate explanation; search other topics for "black paint dried faster" myth).

2. In the spring of 1917, after the introduction of all-black painted Fords, Henry received a letter from a friend who playfully chided him for offering no color choices to his customers. In Henry's reply letter he brought that point up, responding that "The customer can have any color he wants, so long as it is black." Henry had a good sense of humor, and the recipient of the letter was, I believe, the one who first made the quote public. (No proof of that, but I think to Henry it was just a joke in a private letter).

Just how and when it became so well known I can't guess. I hope someone will find the old posting that told the story of that letter. My abilities to successfully locate threads seem to be inversely proportional to how much I want them.

Okay kids, this ball is in play...


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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by Scott_Conger » Sun Oct 06, 2019 8:35 pm

1. Regarding colors, body styles and dates, you have been misled. See: https://www.mtfca.com/encyclo/1914.htm "color"
Scott Conger

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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by John kuehn » Sun Oct 06, 2019 8:48 pm

All black cars from 17-25 served Henry well. Faster and more production and more cars for the common folks were in this period. It worked to say the least.


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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by Greg Griffin » Sun Oct 06, 2019 8:59 pm

I believe the encyclopedia is in error. See "1914 paint color", Feb. 20, 2010 at about 10:20 am, MTFCA forum.
Last edited by Greg Griffin on Sun Oct 06, 2019 9:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by TonyB » Sun Oct 06, 2019 9:17 pm

I really doubt Henry Ford said “ any color as long as it’s black “ in 1909 or 1910 indeed until maybe 1915 as the cars from 1908 to 1914 were rarely painted black. My 1909 left the factory as Brewster Green.
Trent Bloggs suggested with compelling evidence that Ford switched to black paint not because it dried faster but rather because it was less expensive. Most paints in the early twentieth century were little more than colored varnish. The coloring for Black is cheap carbon, I’m sure the coloring agent for Brewster green is more expensive.
Notice how I used the spelling “color” in spite of twenty years of being taught it should be “colour” and not the lazy way of the American colonies😊
Now that should set somebody off 😎😎
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1909 Touring, 1914 Touring, 1915 Speedster, 1924 Coupe.


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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by Roverdriver » Mon Oct 07, 2019 2:31 am

"My Life and Work" was written in 1922. The title page says 'By Henry Ford in collaboration with Samuel Crowther'. That should solve the worry of a later biographer making things up. From other reading, I believe that Ford mainly dictated the book to Crowther, then read over what had been written, before he approved it. I have an Australian First edition which was published in 1923. The quote is identical to that in the on-line book and as copied and pasted by Matt.

In the Australian publication, the paragraph quoted appears on page 72. I have not looked into the reason why there seems to be more to the book than the USA version. The on-line one has 180 pages, mine has 281 pages before the index and end pieces.

I have no doubt that it was said, and that Henry Ford said it. I would point out though that he was saying it as a demonstration about how salesmen could react to a product rather than with the intention to introduce the concept at that time.

Dane

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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by Charlie B in N.J. » Mon Oct 07, 2019 6:34 am

HF said 2 things in his life that were definitely proveable; 1 No & 2 You're fired !
Forget everything you thought you knew.

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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by RustyFords » Mon Oct 07, 2019 8:03 am

Whether he said it or not, I'm glad the Model T black era arrived.

The extremely humble, extraordinarily cheap black era T's are my favorite. They are, in car form, a representation of the working men and women who built the country during that time and kept it moving through the Great Depression and WW2.

They strike a sharp contrast to the ultra-rare very early brass cars and the rare fancy body styles. And, even after a complete restoration, they still appear humble and are worth only a fraction of what it took to restore them. Devoid of pretention, they refuse to be paraded around like fragile princesses.

The only T I've ever wanted was a black era T and now that I've spent nearly 3 years reviving one and getting to know nearly every nut and bolt, I am passionately in love with the little bugger. It, with all of its farm dents and evidence of years of service intact, is coming back to life and simply WANTS to run and work. I've owned just about every kind of old car over the past 35 years but this one has found a place in my heart like no other.
Last edited by RustyFords on Mon Oct 07, 2019 1:24 pm, edited 2 times in total.
1924 Touring


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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by Rich Bingham » Mon Oct 07, 2019 10:34 am

RustyFords wrote:
Mon Oct 07, 2019 8:03 am
. . . this one has found a place in my heart like no other.
:D likely most of us agree heartily !! ❤️
"Get a horse !"

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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by Will_Vanderburg » Mon Oct 07, 2019 11:33 am

One way to solve this would be for someone to offer up a totally original 1914 touring and allow scientific analysis of it's paint. And I mean a car that has never been touched.

I firmly believe when the assembly line began, there was only one color.
William L Vanderburg

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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by Trentb » Mon Oct 07, 2019 12:19 pm

Just to be clear, the quote “ The customer can have any color he wants so long as it is black.” is from the book “My Life and Work” by Henry Ford with Samuel Crowther. Please take note of Mr. Crowther’s role in this book.

In 1922 Mr. Crowther approached the Ford Motor Company about writing a book with Mr. Ford. He proposed to write this book primarily by talking with Mr. Ford’s principle associates and maybe only a two hour interview with Mr. Ford himself. Thus was born the first of three collaborations between Mr. Crowther and Mr. Ford. “My Life and Work” was followed by “Moving Forward” and “Today and Tomorrow “.

While it is clear that Mr. Crowther used a good bit of artistic license in writing the books, others who knew Mr. Ford have credited Mr. Crowther with being able to capture Mr. Ford’s thoughts better than anyone else. Moreover, every word in the books were read and approved by Mr. Ford’s top associates.

Given the process by which these books were written, I have always thought that such quotes as “The Customer Can Have Any Color He Wants So Long As It Is Black” were, if not a direct Ford quote, at least was approved by Mr. Ford and reflect his sentiments.

We now know that all black Model Ts did not begin during 1909. Other records, particularly the cost books of the Ford Motor Company show that all black Model T production did not begin until the fall of 1914.

My two primary sources for the above information are The Henry Ford Office Papers, file folder entitled Samuel Crowther, (The Benson Ford Research Center) and Ford Bryan’s classic book “Henry’s Lieutenants” in which Bryan devotes an entire chapter to Samuel Crowther.

Respectfully Submitted,

Trent Boggess

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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by DLodge » Mon Oct 07, 2019 12:34 pm

Peter, Memphis TN wrote:
Sun Oct 06, 2019 7:19 pm
I'm always a bit skeptical about a quote attributed to someone in the past. This one, of course, is "part of history" according to many, but then, so is Caesar's quote: "All Gaul is divided into three parts." The correct quote would be "Gaul as a whole is divided into three parts." Not a lot different, but nevertheless not a correct quote.
Peter, at the risk of nitpicking, Caesar didn't say either version of the quote about Gaul, what he said was, "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres." The English versions are simply two translators' opinions about the best equivalent of the Latin. Either is as "correct" as the other. :D

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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by Matt in California » Tue Oct 08, 2019 1:09 am

I took Wayne's advice, except I watched spaghetti westerns as I gave my self a holiday from work. Also, I have enjoyed reading peoples responses on this thread. I feel a bit like the hero in theses westerns- out numbered.

It seems to me there are basically three ways to understand the quote:

Option 1: It's true! Ford said this quote in 1909. Ford clearly had his hand in this authorized autobiography. In that time you didn't have to have an expert tell you when only black cars were produced from the factory. Many people could prove that they bought a ford that was not black prior to 1914. So Ford is telling the reader that in 1909 he conceived the idea of only having the Model T chassis - eliminated all other makes. Additionally Ford is telling us he mentioned to his employees that they should only paint the cars one color pleasing 95% of the customers. I really don't see how anyone could prove this quote was not said in 1909. Ford could have said it and whoever was earshot heard it... No eyewitness are still alive. I will hold to my six gun and say that I have no reason to say that Ford being dishonest here. Furthermore people enjoy saying to me "Any color as long as it was black!" I feel ashamed to say I corrected some in the past telling them there was no evidence that Ford said this. Clearly Ford did and took credit for it. Perhaps there is a lack of evince to prove that he did say it in 1909...

Option 2: Publishing blunder... Ford said it, but not in 1909. Perhaps this quote got incorrectly attributed to an earlier year. After all, this was in a time when each draft was hand typed then edited with a pen. It is possible that this was a mistake, but the quote is totally out of place chronologically as this chapter is about the early years of the Model T (1908-1911). It seems to me that Ford narrated this chapter and the ideas are as he stated them. I feel it is unlikely this was a blunder.

Option 3: Ford made up the narrative intentionally is misleading the reader. Ford clearly was a marketing genius. A little like Tom Sawyer convincing Huck Fine and his friends to pay him to paint the fence. (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAHXwLRI88Q) In this chapter alone Ford shares how eliminating options for the buyer was really doing a great service for them. He combines the one color (black) with one chassis (T) as sub categories of his keep manufacturing simple to make it affordable for the masses philosophy. Ford clearly has a very high view of himself and perhaps saying that was the original idea in 1909 making Ford into all the more genius. So if it is a made up story then at some point after 1909 Ford could have been fed the idea "you can have any color you want as long as it is black" from someone then Ford owned it as his own.

To me arguing one of these three options is not the hill that I want to die on. I think the reality is that Ford owned this quote as his own. Perhaps he was a genius and came up with the idea in 1909, or maybe later when the assembly line got in full swing. To me the backstory is just as important. I see the principle that a leaders greatest strengths are their weaknesses. The one model/color for the masses worked up until the mid-twenties. Ford should have been ready to move away from that sooner, but then I wouldn't have my 1926 touring:)

Enjoy,
Matt


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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by Roverdriver » Tue Oct 08, 2019 2:05 am

If one reads and understands both the quotation and the context, it all makes perfect sense both historically and factually. Ford is quoted referring to the behaviour and attitude of salesmen. He could have used any other analogy, but instead happened to use the paint colour which he happened to adopt later on. Re- read it replacing the 'black' with "A customer can have as many wheels as he likes as long as it it three". He is pointing out that many salesmen would see that as a terrible disadvantage, however an enterprising salesman would explain to his customer the advantages of having just three wheels. So too, the apparent (to some) disadvantages of only having a black car, can be sold on the basis of the advantages of having only black cars. IMHO it is incidental that later on Ford actually adopted the policy, but I doubt if he gave a second thought to what he had said a few years earlier.

Incidentally, Trent, the second Crowther book was "The Great Today and The Greater Future", or at least the Australian publication was so titled. I don't have a copy of another, so perhaps those two other books were combined in Oz under a new title.


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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by bud delong » Tue Oct 08, 2019 10:18 am

Enjoy,i think not.A real student of how it was has spoken after many thousands of hours of research and then one come's along and ties to paint it about 2" thick?? :oops: Bud. :oops:


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Re: ”Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Post by Susanne » Tue Oct 08, 2019 12:32 pm

I suspect the autobiography was done looking at the "rosy haze of history" of one of the most successful products ever... So making it sound like the business decisions of the T were in 1909 (months after the actual launch), in addition to the statement "All Fords will be painted black" is looking not at the actual events of 1906-1908 but after almost 10 million of the cars were in service, most of which WERE black (200,000 seems like a lot, but compared to 10 million, ain't much!)... so the liberal use of "factoids" made for good, catchy copy, if not altogether accurate.

We (fortunately) have access not only to the records of the factory but enough surviving examples of cars (especially when I got into this hobby 50 years ago) to know what actually happened VS the popular "mythology" of the Universal Car. (And actually, the earliest T's were more of a separate model from what is known as the T - down to the water pump, 2 pedal 2 lever, etc.)...

Besides - Ford was trying to get his car out there to EVERYONE, so why not play up the hype? See all the black cars? They're all FORDS! (even if they weren't). And yes, for a few months wages you can have one, too! Or two - one for you, one for the wife! 1908? We were building those *other* cars then - this is the NEW car, in all new 1909.

What makes me kinda laugh was the bio was released just as they were making styling improvements to the T - slanted windshield, one man top, etc... so yeah, they were on a marketing drive when this book came out.

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