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When people can't think of something original and clever to say - which is most of the time for some people - they'll often fall back on the worn phrase, “… it's the best thing since sliced bread.”
Often, after hearing the expression, I'd scratch my head and wonder just how sliced bread became the benchmark against which so many great things are now measured. Who's appointed to make such decisions? Who got up one morning and decided on their own that sliced bread was great? And, now that we're in the 21st century, can't we come up with some other invention to compare great things to? If sliced bread is so great, how come two of the most popular types of bread - French and Italian - are still sold in their natural, un-sliced state? Huh? It's obvious this whole “sliced bread” thing wasn't thought through.
I did a little research on these questions and, as Paul Harvey would say, came up with the rest of the story.
Otto Frederick Rohwedder - not to be confused with Frederick Otto Rohwedder of the renowned European circus family “The Fabulous Flying Rohwedders” - has been called the father of sliced bread. Some cynics think that something as mundane as a bread slicer would more than likely be an orphan, but Otto never denied being the proud father of the world's first successful bread slicer.
They say around the 1912 Otto became obsessed with the idea of designing a machine that would automatically slice an entire loaf of bread. He worked tirelessly for many years despite the fact that his first bread-slicing efforts were greeted with raucous laughter and strong resistance from members of the elite, tight-knit baker community. They scoffed at his slicer, saying they had everything they kneaded (an example of baker's humor). The bakers also said that Otto's sliced bread would go stale, like their jokes, much quicker than un-sliced bread.
Ignoring their criticisms Otto kept working. His first hair-brained idea was to slice the bread and then hold it together with hatpins. The resulting machine was not a success. In fact at its unveiling at a national bakers convention, it was met with gales of laughter and eventually made popular the expression, “That's as numb as Otto's hair-pinned bread slicer.”
In 1928, Otto designed a machine that not only sliced bread, but also wrapped it to prevent it from going stale. Good job, Otto.
For many years Battle Creek, Mich., claimed to be both the first place to use Rohwedder's bread slicing machine and to sell sliced bread. But then evidence came to light that refuted the Battle Creek claim.
The Chillicothe, Mo., Constitution-Tribune of July 7, 1928, carried a story about a new machine first used at M.F. Bench's Chillicothe Baking Company. According to the story, Mr. Bench assisted Otto Frederick Rohwedder in fine-tuning his new bread-slicing machine. So, history buffs, sliced bread and the phrase “…greatest thing since…” was appearently “born” in Chillicothe, Mo., on July 7, 1928.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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