Posted by Chris Crawford on October 23, 2007
I have a tiny datum to offer regarding the etymology of the phrase "looking out for number one". In "The Life of Erasmus reduced from the larger work of Dr. Jortin by A. Laycey" , page 84, I found the following text:
"In Luther's opinion, it seems, a man concerned with the administration of public affairs who did not take due care of number one, and help himself out of the basket, was a black swan or white crow, or a patriot from Utopia."
This may be an early use of the phrase "looking out for number one". I could not find any references to the phrase in your archives, so perhaps this has some value.