In 1960, Ted Levitt, a Harvard B-school professor and marketing guru (whom I knew slightly), published a famous essay, "Marketing Myopia," in the Harvard Business Review. He looked at three industries he thought were in danger of misjudging the future (not including buggy whip makers.) The essay was immensely influential, and HBS has surely sold a gazillion reprints. But is it really what kept the buggy-whip image trotting along for another 50 years?
My Googling has left me dubious. The buggy whip was already widely used as the exemplar of a suddenly obsolete product in the 1940s and '50s:
"Of course, low prices could not save the buggy-whip industry." (Harold Bright Maynard, ed., "Effective Foremanship," 1941)Just a year before Levitt's essay, another business writer used the buggy whip to make the same point he did:
"The silent movie has vanished now more completely than the buggy whip." (New York Times, Aug. 28, 1944)
"The harsh fate that befell the buggy-whip industry is apparently threatening the pajama industry, though for less obvious reasons." (The New Yorker, July 30, 1949)
"After all, buggy-whip towns couldn't hold back Henry Ford's Model T. " (Changing Times magazine, August 1950)
"The 50-50 basis of operation in the coin machine business is as out-dated as the buggy whip." (Billboard magazine, July 1, 1957)
"Be sure not to invest in a buggy whip factory just when a new automobile industry is being born." (Life magazine, Sept. 15, 1958. In the same issue, a mattress advertiser urged readers, "Don't settle for a 'Horse-&-Buggy' bed!")
"If buggy-whip people had realized that they were not in the business of making high-quality buggy whips, but rather in the business, fundamentally, of stimulating further output from the prime mover on the family conveyance, their factories would not now be gaunt skeletons upon the American industrial scene." (Eugene K. Von Fange, "Professional Creativity," 1959)And Levitt himself mentioned the buggy whip industry only in passing, calling it "the classic example" of a business that failed to evolve.
I don't know if Stross (a business professor) is really overestimating Levitt's influence on the language, or just employing a bit of hyperbole. But I strongly suspect that the buggy-whip image would have fared just as well (or badly) over the past half-century even if Levitt had never mentioned it.