Have you ever heard something described as the “best thing since sliced bread”? People often say this when talking about a fantastic new product, innovation or invention

But have you ever stopped to WONDER about that curious statement? After all, sliced bread has been around a long time. And some of today’s incredible products seem much more exciting than sliced bread.

The phrase “the best thing since sliced bread” is about as old as sliced bread itself. And let’s face it: sliced bread is really great. Long, long ago, people made bread by hand. Each time you wanted a sandwich or a piece of toast, you had to get out a knife and slice a piece of bread for yourself.

That all changed in 1928. That year, Otto Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, invented the world’s first bread-slicing machine. Several companies began to use it to create prepackaged sliced bread, which was advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” That advertising slogan led to the now-famous phrase “the best thing since sliced bread.”

And, of course, people loved sliced bread. How could you not? When you wanted a sandwich or a piece of toast, all you needed to do was open the package and grab a slice or two. No need for a knife. No cutting necessary. No mess of crumbs to clean up. It was fantastic!

That’s why the popular phrase is still used today to describe new products, innovations or inventions that people think are great. It’s not meant in a literal sense. In other words, people don’t use the phrase to indicate that something new really is the best thing invented since sliced bread. Instead, they use the phrase as a colorful way of indicating how much they like something new.

But what was the best thing BEFORE sliced bread was. After all, 1928 is relatively recent in the overall span of history. There must have been plenty of WONDERful inventions before then.

Just before sliced bread, maybe new inventions were described as the “best thing since the electric light bulb.” After all, it certainly changed the world when it was invented in 1880. And before that, people could have said, “This is the best thing since the telegraph!” This communication device was pretty popular after its invention in the 1830s. 

Of course, history is full of such world-changing inventions. Maybe the telegraph was the “best thing since the steam engine,” which was invented in 1712. Or maybe it was the “best thing since the printing press" of 1450. We could go on and on—all the way back to the invention of the wheel around 3500 BCE.

What were some other great inventions before sliced bread? The automobile? How about the refrigerator or compass? People have been coming up with useful objects since the dawn of time. What other examples can you think of?

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.1

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