We Have Done So Much with So Little for So Long, that Now We Can Do Anything with Nothing

U.S. Airforce? U.S. Navy? Marines? U.S. Coastguard? Hugh S. Johnson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: During a retirement party I heard the following humorous encomium:

She did so much, with so little, for so long that she is now able to do everything with nothing.

Would you please explore the history of this statement?

Quote Investigator: This expression is difficult to trace because it is highly malleable. In 1942 a precursor appeared in the syndicated newspaper column of former U.S. army officer Hugh S. Johnson. General Douglas MacArthur won praise from Johnson. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The plaudits he has so justly won by doing so much with so little have left a sort of impression that he is a military magician who can do anything with nothing.

By 1960 the expression emerged as a motto within the Tactical Air Command of the U.S. Air Force. The following passage discussed aerial refueling tankers: 2

The tankers being flown out of Langley were built in the early 1950’s, at the latest. Their refueling altitude is limited to under 30,000-feet, their refueling speed is less than 300 knots and their maintenance problems—because of age and high rate of usage — are sometimes almost more than can be met—although the tankers have a motto: “We have done so much with so little for so long, that now we can do anything with nothing.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading We Have Done So Much with So Little for So Long, that Now We Can Do Anything with Nothing


  1. 1942 March 26, The Daily Pantagraph, MacArthur Must Be Saved From Friends by Hugh S. Johnson, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Bloomington, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1960 March 6, Daily Press, Eye on the Eagle by Howard Gibbons (Daily Press Military Editor), Quote Page 3-A, Column 5, Newport News, Virginia. (Newspapers_com)