The Technium

The Best Since Sliced Bread

The other day I was slicing a big loaf of dark Italian bread; it is a pleasure of mine to carve thick hunks of hearty bread to ready for the toaster. While I was happily slicing the loaf, the all-American phrase “the best thing since sliced bread” popped into my head. So I started wondering, what was the problem that pre-sliced bread solved? Why was sliced bread considered so great? Shouldn’t the phrase be something like “the best thing since penicillin”, or something like that?

What is so great about this thing we now take for granted? My thoughts cascaded down a sequence of notions about sliced bread. It is one of those ubiquitous things we don’t think about.

  1. Maybe the bread they are talking about is fluffy white Wonder bread that crushes really easy. That might be hard to slice, and so getting white bread pre sliced is nice.
  2. Maybe the bread they are talking about is not as tender as it is today, and it was actually tough to slice very thin for a sandwich. Buying pre slice saved embarrassment, and so in that respect it was a wonder.
  3. Maybe it is hard to automate sliced bread, and while not that much of a selling point, maybe it took some technical innovation to make it happen. According to ChapGPT, “Otto Frederick Rohwedder, an American inventor, developed the first successful bread slicing machine in 1928.”
  4. Maybe this was a marketing ploy by commercial bread bakers, to sell a feature that becomes a necessity.
  5. Maybe this phrase has always been said ironically. Maybe from the beginning everyone knew that sliced bread was a nothing burger, and it was meant to indicate that the new thing was no big deal.  Only later did the original meaning lapse and it become un-ironic.
  6. Maybe it is still ironic, and I am the last person to misunderstand that it is not to be taken as an indicator of goodness.

If not, maybe it is time for sliced bread.


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