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The meaning and origin of the expression: History is bunk

History is bunk

What's the meaning of the phrase 'History is bunk'?


Live in the present, not the past.

What's the origin of the phrase 'History is bunk'?

History is bunkHenry Ford (1863 - 1947) was the founder of the Ford Motor Company, the father of the assembly line and of mass-production, and one of the wealthiest and most famous people who ever lived. However, history is bunk is probably one of the two things that most of us can recall that he ever said. The other being "People can have the Model T in any colour - so long as it's black".

What he actually said about history was:

"History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history that we make today." (Chicago Tribune, 1916).

His gung ho, don't concern yourself with the past - live in the present philosophy was also apparent in a couple of other quotations:

"You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do."
"If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can't, you're right."

In the Series 3, Episode 7 edition of the BBC's QI quiz show, Stephen Fry made this comment:

There's no evidence that Ford actually ever said, "Any color you like so long as it's black."

Fry's researchers would do well to read Ford's autobiography, My Life and Work, 1922, which includes this passage:

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."

Any colour so long as it is blackIn is likely that Ford was being somewhat playful in making that remark. Model Ts were, in fact, offered in a choice of colour early in the car's lifetime around 1908, and again after 1926. The statement was true when Ford's biography was published, in 1922, and when he was cutting costs by using a type of quick-drying paint that was only then available in black.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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