This quote has been circulating through the English language ever since Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa made the first commercial bread slicing machine in 1928. He actually had one built in 1912 but it was destroyed in a fire (probably the result of a clandestine operation by anti-sliced bread guerillas). The federal government banned the machine in 1943 as a cost saving move in support of the war effort that the world was engaged in at the time. Legions of housewives of the day swarmed to Capital Hill in Washington D.C. and the ban was quickly lifted that same year. Lucky thing for the government. Hell hath no wrath like a legion of women deprived of sliced bread. It’s true. A letter to the editor was found where a housewife of the day had written that she had to slice up to twenty slices of bread each morning to get her brood out and about. She simply did not have the time to do all this and get her husband off to work and kids to school in a timely manner.
The more interesting question to ponder is what was the neatest thing BEFORE sliced bread? What did they say before 1928 to express something that was just the neatest thing around? It would indeed be a fortunate thing if the internet could deal with issues such as this but, it cannot. The World Wide Web serves only to allow many thousands to lay claim (unjustifiably at that) to the title neatest thing since sliced bread. There are those who claim this distinction for everything from pre-made freezable dinners to neon signs to the hubcap of a 1966 Buick Wildcat. There is even a company that claims that a contraption designed to catch and rid one’s yard of sparrows is the neatest thing since sliced bread (doubtful – a .22 rifle has been at that job for ages and is far neater than any oddly shaped contraption). For either better or worse, there is not a federal or state commission that can decide these questions and so put to rest this issue of such great import. No, society is left to fend for itself. So, exactly what was the neatest thing before sliced bread?
Considerable thought has been devoted to this age-old question. An internet poll was even commissioned to gauge public opinion. The results were, sadly, less than desirable. Everything from indoor plumbing, the wheel, fire, and cars were nominated. One person actually nominated toothpaste in a tube not once, but twice! So what is the answer?
Toothpaste in a tube held this august title beginning in 1892 when Dr. Washington Sheffield first introduced the world to the convenience of toothpaste in a tube. He, of course, lost the title to Mr. Rohwedder’s sliced bread in 1912 or 1928 depending on who is counting. “Neatest thing since toothpaste in a tube.” Pretty catchy, isn’t it?
Now you know.