July 7, 1928: What Was The Greatest Thing Before Sliced Bread?

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A Brief History

On July 7, 1928, bread that was presliced, wrapped in paper or cellophane, and sold like that to the consumer in bakeries and grocery stores first made its debut.  The bread slicer was invented by Iowan Otto Rohwedder, and the race to sell sliced bread was on.

Digging Deeper

The Chillocothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri claims to have sold the first such bread under its “Kleen Maid Sliced Bread” brand.  Battle Creek, Michigan, also claims to be the first place the bread was sold, but without as much documentation.

Chillicothe Baking Company’s building in Chillicothe, Missouri, where bread was first machine-sliced for sale.  Photograph by Americasroof.

When Wonder Bread began selling sliced bread nationwide in 1930, the whole country got to experience “The greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.”  That commercial claim led to the American saying, “The greatest thing since sliced bread,” a phrase used to describe the latest and greatest thing that comes down the pike.

Ever since then, people have been wondering, “What was the greatest thing before sliced bread?”  Millions have been baffled by this question.  Sliced cheese?  Did that come first?  Orange soda in cans?  What was that wondrous thing?  The bikini came later, so it must have been something else!

US women’s beach volleyball team has cited several advantages to bikini uniforms, such as comfort while playing on sand during hot weather.  Photograph by Fido shows US beach volleyball players Jennifer Fopma and Brooke Sweat in their uniforms.

Question for students (and subscribers): The next question generated by all this important discussion is, what will the next greatest thing be?  Dogs that use the toilet?  Babies that do not cry?  Toothpaste that does not gross you out after drinking orange juice?   How about GPS chips implanted in your kids?  When you figure out what the next greatest thing is, let us know here on History and Headlines so the world can see it and we can finally put the whole sliced bread thing to bed!

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Fountain, Nigel.  The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread: Cliches: What they Mean and Where they Came From.  Reader’s Digest, 2012.

The featured image in this article, a 1930 photograph from the magazine Popular Science with the caption, “The new electric bread slicing machine at work in a St. Louis, Mo. bakery,” is in the public domain because it was published in the United States between 1924 and 1963 and although there may or may not have been a copyright notice, the copyright was not renewed. Unless its author has been dead for the required period, it is copyrighted in the countries or areas that do not apply the rule of the shorter term for US works, such as Canada (50 pma), Mainland China (50 pma, not Hong Kong or Macao), Germany (70 pma), Mexico (100 pma), Switzerland (70 pma), and other countries with individual treaties.  See Commons:Hirtle chart for further explanation.  The article, “Slices a thousand loaves of bread an hour,” does not identify the bakery but this machine may have been the one invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, whose 2nd slicing machine was purchased by Gustav Papendick of Papendick Bakery Company in St. Louis who worked out a process to wrap the sliced loaf automatically.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.