I’ve heard people ask the question, “Well, what was the best thing before sliced bread?” It’s a valid question. I guess. Until you consider the fact that it’s just a figure of speech and people don’t really think that sliced bread is one of the greatest things to ever come along. But all the same, let’s ponder it for a bit. It appears that in 1928, Otto Frederick Rohwedder introduced sliced bread to a grateful public. Unable to distance himself from his most successful creation, Otto’s inventions later in life, such as sliced socks, were met with less enthusiasm.
We’re looking pre-’28 so let’s orient ourselves.
– Herbert Hoover is elected President of the United States.
– Thomas Midgley, Jr. develops Freon as a gas for use in refrigerators.
– The New York Rangers win the Stanley Cup.
– Ariel Sharon is born.
– Mickey and Minnie Mouse appear for the first time in a short titled, “Plane Crazy”.
– Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.
– General Electric begins television broadcasts.
– Noam Chomsky is born.
– Paul Kollsman develops the barometric altimeter. The radio beacon is also introduced for navigation. The combination makes instrumental flight possible.
It really makes you stop and wonder if the phrase, “It’s the greatest thing since freon” would’ve been as successful. I doubt it. It would be equally clumsy to try to use, “Boy, I tell ya, Bob, that 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner is the best thing since the combination of the radio beacon and barometric altimeter.”
But if the phrase had existed in a modified form prior to 1928, what fantastic invention might it have referenced? It would have to be something that’s convenient, but not essential to survival. Gimmicky, but with staying power.
People might have been saying, “That’s the greatest thing since Pierre Michaux invented the bicycle (1861).” Or, “Wow! This vacuum cleaner (1899) is the best thing since toilet paper (1880)!” You might have also overheard someone say, “Hey! Have you done one of these crossword puzzles (1913)? They’re the greatest thing since Cornflakes (1906)!”
Personally, I’d like to update the current version of the phrase. The substitute? That garlic bread in the foil bag that you just chunk straight in to the oven. The irony is, it isn’t sliced.