Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Hell Bent For Leather

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 13, 2011

Such an odd phrase that paints such a vivid picture, the phrase “hell-bent for leather” has certainly established itself as a pack-a-punch expression.  The St. Petersburg Times in Florida reported on President Kennedy‘s visit to the Berlin Wall in a news article dated June 26, 1963.

There is no place which makes a better platform for hell-bent-for-leather speeches than the ground adjacent to the Berlin wall.  Here the passions of the West Berliners are likely to ignite the most impassive speaker.  Here it is routine to open old wounds, wave the flag, and goad the Russian Bear.

Thirty years earlier, on June 7, 1933 the Milwaukee Journal ran a news article on the rivalry between Max Schmeling and Max Baer and how it affected boxing.

“By gracious, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Max pop that Baer out of there in the first heat,” Mr. Carney said over a glass of beer.  “No sir, I wouldn’t.  You know, that boy’s a torment on those fellows who come running in.  Look at his record: three of the fellows he nailed in the first round were of the type that comes tearing in, hell-bent for leather.  Joe Monte was the first one.  Monte came out like a cyclone and a minute later — boof!  He was on the floor.”

Rudyard Kipling in his book The Story of the Gadsbys published in 1888 contains this phrase:

Gaddy, take this chit to Bingle, and ride hell-for-leather. It’ll do you good.

That being said, Hell bent is the operative phrase in the saying as the saying has been Hell bent for election, Hell bent for Sunday, Hell bent for breakfast and Hell bent for Georgia over the years.  Hell bent for election dates back to the State of Maine gubernatorial race of 1840 and Hell bent dates back to 1835 as shown by a passage on page 12 of the book “The Knickerbocker: New-York Monthly Magazine, Volume 6” where it comments on a large encampment of savages Hell bent on carnage.

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