Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Episode 159: Best Thing Since Sliced Bread Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 159: Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

Record Date: July 9, 2022

Air Date: July 13, 2022



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Shauna Harrison


And I’m Dan Pugh

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Opening Hook

Which came first, the toaster or sliced bread? I suppose it depends on how you define sliced bread, really. And while there are many things we might say are “the best thing since sliced bread”, I’ve always wondered what was the best thing BEFORE sliced bread? All that and more starting now. 


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, saying something is the best thing since sliced bread, or the greatest thing since sliced bread, means


an expression of enthusiastic appreciation, esp. of a new invention or discovery

End Quote

This is a relatively new saying, even though sliced bread is not a new thing. 

A 2018 NPR news story spoke of discovering bread crumbs that were 14,000 years old in an archeological site of the Natufian people. This is in modern-day Jordan. It was news worthy for a reason,


The established archaeological doctrine states that humans first began baking bread about 10,000 years ago. That was a pivotal time in our evolution. Humans gave up their nomadic way of life, settled down and began farming and growing cereals. Once they had various grains handy, they began milling them into flour and making bread. In other words, until now we thought that our ancestors were farmers first and bakers second. But <these> breadcrumbs predate the advent of agriculture by at least 4,000 years. That means that our ancestors were bakers first —and learned to farm afterwards.

End Quote 

Fascinating stuff, I’m sure. My point though, is that bread has been around for at least 14,000 years. 

The history of slicing that bread is much more difficult to pin down. I’m sure we were slicing bread as soon as we had both bread and knives, so long before anything like English was around. But here is a recipe for Almond Caudle, a hot drink that seems to have plenty of booze in it. This is from the 1685 (or maybe 1686) work The Accomplish’d Lady’s Delight by Hannah Wolley, under the pseudonym (just the initial) T.P.


Take three pints of ale, boil it with cloves and mace, and slice bread in it, then have ready-beaten a pound of almonds blanched, and strain them out with a pint of white wine, and thick the ale with it, sweeten to taste if you please…

End Quote

So sliced bread has been around much longer than 1928. So for the rest of the show, when I say sliced bread, I am talking about bread that was pre-sliced and sold that way. And that sliced bread, it seems, originated in Chillicothe, Missouri, USA. And I know I’m saying that correctly, because I called the Chillicothe City Hall and asked. Here is a full-page advertisement in the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune July 7, 1928


Announcing the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped, a fine loaf sold a better way, Sliced Kleen Maid Bread

End Quote 

One answer down. The best thing before sliced bread was wrapped bread. 

Now the wording does sound a lot like our phrase. But I don’t think it has much to do with our phrase now for two reasons. The first is because the town seemed to have forgotten they invented sliced bread. At least until the early 2000s, when the news editor of the Constitution-Tribune, Catherine Stortz Ripley, was writing a history book and re-discovered the news. After some investigative sleuthing she brought the news back to the world. And now you can go to Chillicothe, Missouri for sliced bread Saturday the first weekend in August, or attend the bluegrass festival Sliced Bread Jam in July, or get souvenirs in the sliced bread museum where you can see an actual bread slicer from the inventor of the bread slicer, Otto Rohwedder, that was sent to them by the Smithsonian Institute. 

If you want to hear more about the history of sliced bread, I recommend The Retro Spectors, a 10 minute daily podcast about curious moments from this day in history. They have one called “The Best Thing Since Wrapped Bread” that we’ll link to, but you can find them anywhere you get your podcasts.

You may recall I said there were two reasons I didn’t think the headline spawned the phrase, and the second reason is because the grouping of “the best thing since” has been around much longer than sliced bread. 

Here are a few quick examples of this, the first coming from the:

Here’s one from the:

New York Herald

23 Apr 1874, New York, New York, USA


End Quote

Lincoln Daily Nebraska State Journal

02 Oct 1892, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA


End Quote

Des Moines Daily News

11 Jan 1910, Des Moines, Iowa, USA


End Quote

We’ve clearly been engaging in hyperbole for a long time. The best thing since, or greatest thing since, structure was used for decades before sliced bread came around in 1928. But pre-sliced, wrapped, sliced bread went viral, so to speak, in 1930 when Wonder Bread - who already was wrapping their bread and had a national distribution network - improved on the slicing design and made sliced bread a household name.

It was only after this that our phrase began to get used. The first time I could find it attested was in a newspaper  from 1933:

Here’s another example, a few decades later, about a 3 bed, 21/2 bath home selling for $21,950 in Arlington, VA, 1956. 

According to the first cost inflation calculator I found on Google, $21,950 would be $235,878.57 in 2022’s money. By contrast, every 3 bed 2 bath home in Arlington, VA I could find right now would cost you about a million dollars, give or take 100,000. It feels like something hasn’t kept up over the years. Anyway…

One more, this one from a syndicated column called Dear Heloise where a reader has written in to thank Heloise for her great advice. I’ll read an excerpt from an article in:

One more fun fact before we head to our modern uses. I’ve mentioned before on the show that the electric toaster was invented before pre-sliced bread loaves were available. But you may not know how long before. Here’s a snippet from a blog by Gold Medal, a baking company in the United States. 


In 1893, Alan MacMasters of Scotland created an electric device he called the “Eclipse Toaster.” You can imagine why it had limited success, given that sliced bread was not yet invented and electricity itself was not widespread.

Several inventors improved on the idea over the next few years. In 1919, Charles Strife debuted a toaster with a timer and spring, which he sold as the “Toastmaster” in 1926 — two years before Rohwedder would invent his sliced bread machine. A few years later, when sliced bread became popular, “Toastmaster” sales shot up. Now, almost every American kitchen has both a toaster and a loaf of sliced bread.

End Quote

So there you go. This episode has been full of fun facts. And for that, we have to thank those who make this all possible. 

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon.

You can help support this educational artform and get awesome perks along the way! Tiers start at $3 a month, which get you our polls and community-only discussions, early access to the podcast, and the behind the scenes video for each episode so you can watch along as we make the show. 

At $10 you’ll also get original digital artwork from Shauna once a month featuring exclusive art about an idiom or other turn of phrase. At $15, you’ll also get personal on-air recognition like Pat Rowe does every episode. And of course huge thanks goes to the top spot among our Patrons, our Dean of Learning, Mary Halsig-Lopez. Thank you so much to Mary and all of our patrons. 

If you want to help create Bunny Trails week after week, whatever your budget, we are bunnytrailspod on Patreon. 


Modern Uses

Our last quote about sliced bread was from 1962, so I figure we’ll pick up with a book from 1965. 

1965 Book

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread is a novel by Don Robertson. The same Don Robertson that Stephen King has referenced as being one of his great inspirations.  Here is the synopsis of the novel from Goodreads:


On a quiet autumn afternoon in 1944, nine-year-old Morris Bird III decides to visit a friend who lives on the other side of town. So he grabs the handle of his red wagon and, with his little sister in tow, begins an incredible pilgrimage across Cleveland . . . and out of childhood forever.

Set against the backdrop of one of the worst industrial disasters in American history, Don Robertson's enduring, beloved masterwork is a remarkable story of destiny, bravery, and responsibility, as fresh and relevant as when it first appeared in print.

End Quote

This is the first in a trilogy of books focused on Morris Bird III.

It took some searching for me to find what industrial disaster they were referencing here. And since I haven’t read the book I don’t know if me telling you know would be a spoiler. Though the book is almost 60 years old. Still, there is a link in the show notes if you want to click on it. I turned it into one of those shortened urls so there won’t be any spoilers in the link name. 

2014 Art Exhibit

The 2014 art exhibit, Since Sliced Bread, was the culmination of an immersive year of artistic research into the Windmills and communities of Lincolnshire, UK by visual philosopher Fi Burke. It was housed at the Ayscoughfee Hall Museum in Lincolnshire. The exhibit was part social history and part community engagement as it explored a broader sense of where the food we eat came from. Here’s a short excerpt from the blog associated with the exhibit:


In the Medieval brick Undercroft, a field of hand made white windmills are placed in an enigmatic grid, reflecting on the unsung roles of Millers and farmers, in our lives throughout history. The field adopts the standard layout of WW1 cemeteries in France; echoing the linear layout of the drains in the fens. These Windmills are redundant, trapped in a windless vault, reflecting in part on the defunct Windmills that once powered the nation’s food baskets. It is a eulogy to the land and its cycles – to the wind and to the soil.

End Quote 

2018 Song

In 2018, Jillian Hall sang Sliced Bread, her WWE Theme. I’ll link to the Youtube Video. Instead of reading you anything about the lyrics, I’ll instead tell you to top two comments, which let you know everything you need to know about this song.

Pepi Smith said: She had 0 auto tune I’m proud


Angel said: Idk why this is so catchy

If you would like possibly the worst earworm ever, feel free to check it out. 

2020 Podcast

Since January of 2020, Since Sliced Bread has been a podcast presented by Baking & Snack magazine. Here’s their overview from Apple Podcasts:


…Since Sliced Bread celebrates the past, present and future of commercial baking. We'll be sharing stories and experiences from the past 100 years of baking and asking the hard questions about how the industry will overcome its latest challenges.

End Quote

We’ll link to it on Apple Podcasts if that sounds like your kind of thing. They run 15 to 30 minutes in length and have 81 episodes at the time of this recording. 

2020 Advertisement

You may recall Little Caesars 2020 commercial that aired during the NFL finals game starring Rainn Wilson (who may be best known for his portrayal of Dwight Schrute on The Office, a TV show I’ve never seen because I don’t care for mockumentaries but I’ve heard it’s very good so don’t at me). It opens with someone getting a Little Caesars pizza delivered and declaring their new delivery service to be the best thing since sliced bread. Mr. Wilson plays the CEO at Sliced Bread Headquarters. The commercial relies heavily on Wilson’s comedic chops, which are stellar, and follows the downfall of Sliced Bread as the best thing. It even has a surprise ending. All in one 60 second ad spot.

2021 Song

Did you know Boy George is still making music? In 2021 he released a new song and video called The Best Since Sliced Bread. Here’s an excerpt from the rather evocative lyrics:


He's dreaming about me

So I'm in his head

I believe in creation

When I watch you undress

Willful surrender

No need to confess

We'll skip to the future

'Cause right now is such a mess

I'm the best thing

Since sliced bread

You can butter me up baby

Or just toast me instead

End Quote 

This would be a good song to listen to if you want to get the WWE song out of your head. 

Wrap up...

I love the history of pre-sliced bread, especially how a whole town forgot it was invented there. But they have more than made up for it since the news resurfaced. And this phrase is definitely one of the more positive phrases we’ve found. It’s all about highlighting something that had a positive impact on society and comparing it with something that, at least in the moment, seems to be equally cool or fun. 



That’s about all we have for today. I’m sure there are many things we have that are better than sliced bread. And I’m hopeful you will share those with us. You can let us know on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod, hit us up on email at, or comment on our website


Poll time! 

Recently, we posed this scenario to our Patrons:

The apocalypse is nigh. What is the TOP skill you focus on to be ready?

  • Fighting

  • Healing

  • Gardening/Farming

  • Chemistry

  • Lore/History

  • Arts

A full 75% of our Patrons said gardening or farming. Nearly every one else went with healing. Which means we would have a bad D&D party, but we have a decent start to rebuilding after the apocalypse. 


Based on the comments, most people focused on something they weren’t already good at. Emily does art all day for work, so she focused in other areas. Likewise, Mary chose to focus on gardening because she has some of the other skills already. 

If I could change my answer, I’d spend more time on chemistry. Not because I like it more, though I do like chemistry, but because we’d have plenty of gardeners so I’d probably focus my talents elsewhere. 


As a reminder, our silly polls mean absolutely nothing and are not scientifically valid. But Patrons of all levels get to take part in our polls, so head over to to join now!



Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember, 


Words belong to their users. 

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