A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeye's fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from December 19, 2011
“The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer”

“The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer” was a popular slogan of United States armed forces in World War II, cited from 1942. The saying appears to have been popular in 1939; the philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) used it in November 1939 and the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) used it in December 1939. There are earlier examples as well.

Henry Kissinger used a variation of this saying in 1973 when he said, “The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.”

Google Books
The Yale Book of Quotations
Edited by Fred R. Shapiro
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
Pg. 327:
Charles Alexandre de Calonne
French statesman, 1734-1802
“Madame, si c’est possible, c’est fait; impossible? cela sefera.”
“Madam, if it be possible, it is done; if impossible, it shall be done.”

Quoted in Jules Michelet, Histoire de la Revolution Francaise (1847)
Pg. 545:
Fridtjof Nansen
Norwegian explorer, 1861-1930
“Never stop because you are afraid—you are never so likely to be wrong. Never keep a line of retreat: it is a wretched invention. The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer.”
Quoted in Listener, 14 Dec. 1939
Pg. 664:
George Santayana
Spanish-born U.S. philosopher and critic, 1863-1952
“The Difficult is that which can be done immediately; the Impossible that which takes a little longer.
Quoted in Reader’s Digest, Nov. 1939
Pg. 769:
Anthony Trollope
English novelist, 1815-1882
“What was it the French minister said. If it is simply difficult it is done. If it is impossible, it shall be done.”
Phineas Redux ch. 29 (1873)

QUOTATION: With willing hearts and skillful hands, the difficult we do at once; the impossible takes a bit longer.
ATTRIBUTION: Author unknown. Inscription on the memorial to the Seabees (U.S. Naval Construction Batallions), between Memorial Bridge and Arlington Cemetery.

“The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer.”—Motto of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, according to The Home Book of American Quotations, ed. Bruce Bohle, p. 35 (1967), which says that other branches of the service also used this slogan. Newsweek, March 8, 1943, p. 34, attributes this “cocky slogan” to the Army Air Forces.

A higher comparative, “The impossible we do at once; the miraculous takes a little longer,” was said to be the motto of the Army Service Forces.—The New York Times, November 4, 1945, pp. 2E, 6E. This echoes a remark attributed to Charles-Alexandre de Calonne, Louis XVI’s minister of finance. Marie Antoinette asked him something in a tone that brooked no refusal, adding that perhaps it would be difficult. He replied, “If it is only difficult, it is done; if it is impossible, we shall see.”—J. F. Michaud, Biographie Universelle, vol. 6, p. 427.

31 March 1924, Oakland (CA) Tribune, pg. 4, col. 6:
“Energy is the ability to overcome obstacles. The difference between the difficult and the ‘impossible’ is that the impossible takes a little longer time.”
(Dr. John Snape at the First Baptist Church, sermon on “Radium, or the Utilization of Energy”—ed.)

10 November 1927, Clearfield (PA) Progress, “Right Angles” by Alexander Cairns, pg. 4, col. 3:
And the only difference he knows between the possible and the impossible is that the impossible takes a little longer.

24 July 1938, Florence (SC) Morning News, “Editorial Comments” by J. A. Zeigler, pg. 4, col. 2:
According to one thinker there is not much difference between the difficult and the impossible....The difficult is that which can, (if you really try) be done immediately, the impossible takes a little longer.

19 December 1940, Racine (WI) Journal-Times, “What Noted People Say,” pg. 4, col. 4:
The difficult is that which we can do today; the impossible takes a little longer.—Fridtjof Nansen, polar explorer.

4 June 1941, Canton (OH) Repository, “Police, Firemen In Softball Game,” pg. 19, col. 5:
In issuing the challenge the firemen informed the policemen that “the difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes time. We’ll put an end to this bragging in the Flatfoot league before meeting the better class teams.”

22 March 1942, Oakland (CA) Tribune, pg. 24:
Many of the slogans that have been heard since December 7 have lacked both spontaneity and appeal. Some have been particularly lacking in home-grown qualities; they might have been manufactured anywhere un the world. Though it is obviously custom-made, the training slogan of the Ordnance Department oft he Army sounds as though it were made in America. “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.” There is the proper combination of humor and brag inthese words, even though they may be a little long for ready remembrance.
-- New York Sun.

8 June 1942, Charleston (WV) Gazette, pg. 6, col. 5:
In the offices of some of the Ford executives are small framed notices which read:

“The difficult we do immediately—the impossible takes a little longer.”
-- Charlotte, N. C. Observer.

4 July 1942, Lubbock (TX) Morning Avalanche, pg. 4, col.2:
Motto Of South Plains Flying School Post
Adjutant: “The Difficult We Do Immediately;
The Impossible Takes A Little Longer”

16 July 1942, Omaha (NE) World-Herald, “On Broadway” by Walter Winchell, pg. 20, col. 7:
The sign at an army camp: “The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer.”

17 September 1942, New York (NY) Times, “Worthy Targets Are Kenney’s Aim” by Byron Darnton, pg. 4:
(Maj. Gen. G. C. Kenney of the United States Army Air Forces, new commander of Allied Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific area—ed.)
General Kenney is offensive-minded, and he is anxious for the day to come when he can utilize his policy of the offensive.

Under the glass top of his desk is a motto that reads:

“The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer.”

Google Books
Collier’s Illustrated Weekly
Volume 110
Pg. 68:
ONE of the slogans posted on the walls throughout the Administration Building at Randolph Field, Texas, reads:
The Difficult We Do Immediately --
The Impossible Takes a Little Longer.

Google Books
American Reveille;
The United States at war

By Ward Morehouse
New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Pg. 174:
“If you want the spirit of this town in a sentence you will find it on our placards which read like this: ‘The difficult we will do immediately — the impossible will take a little longer.’”

Google Books
Lightning in the Sky:
The story of Jimmy Doolittle

By Carl Mann
New York, NY: Robert M. McBride
Pg. 143:
A saying credited to Lieutenant General Brehon Somervell goes: “The difficult we do at once. The impossible takes a little longer.” Now they’ve improved on it: “The impossible we do at once. The miraculous takes . . . etc.”

Google Books
15 March 1943, Times magazine, pg. 20, col. 3:
Said General Arnold: “We have a motto which certainly applies to air operations in the Far East-’The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.’”

11 April 1943, New York (NY) Times, “Fighting Handymen on Every Battlefront” by Samuel T. Williamson, pg. SM10:
“Engineers have no need for display of placards, “The difficult we do immediately, the impossible requires a little longer,” which hang above many a desk in Washington.

7 July 1943, New York (NY) Times, “Letters to The Times,” pg. 18:
The difficult we do now, the impossible takes longer.
New York, July 6, 1943.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military/ Religion • Monday, December 19, 2011 • Permalink