A couple of years ago I posted about an antedating of “the whole nine yards” to April 25, 1964. Now Fred R. Shapiro, in a Yale Alumni Magazine column, after summarizing the history of what he calls “the most prominent etymological riddle of our time,” reports on two further antedatings:
Your staff of testers cannot fairly and equitably appraise the Chevrolet Impala sedan, with all nine yards of goodies, against the Plymouth Savoy which has straight shift and none of the mechanical conveniences which are quite common now.
— Car Life, December 1962
Then the dog would catch on and go ki-yi-yi-ing from one to the other of the shouting pyjama clad participants mad, mad, mad, the consequence of house, home, kids, respectability, status as a college professor and the whole nine yards, as a brush salesman who came by the house was fond of saying, the whole damn nine yards.
— Robert E. Wegner, “Man on the Thresh-Hold,” Michigan’s Voices: A Literary Quarterly Magazine, Fall 1962
Shapiro’s conclusion: “Their context does not relate to the military, nor to the realms of cloth, concrete, or football. They are sufficiently removed from World War II to raise serious doubts about how a term from that war could have attained currency in the 1960s yet left no trace of prior usage. We don’t yet have answers, but the questions are moving in new directions as the fog of speculation gives way to the light of fact.” The first reader response is from a guy who thinks the military explanation is correct because he read it in a Len Deighton book. As Shapiro begins by saying, “Etymology is the –ology that gets no respect.”
Addendum. Ben Zimmer has a fuller report, with actual images of the cited texts, here.
Update (2012). Bonnie Taylor-Blake has antedated it to the July 1956 issue of Kentucky Happy Hunting Ground, where Ron Rhody used it in hyphenated form (“So that’s the whole nine-yards”). Rhody used it again in the January 1957 issue, without a hyphen (“These guys go the whole nine yards — no halfway stuff for them”); remarkably, “he’s still around and even has a blog. Rhody told Taylor-Blake that he thought it was a common expression in Kentucky at the time but didn’t have any particular insights about its origins.” I quote from Ben Zimmer’s Visual Thesaurus column, where you will find more details (and an image of the 1956 occurrence).