The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

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The other night Wyatt was in the bath as I leaned over washing his hair.  Head tilted back and eyes as I rinsed the shampoo from his head with cupfuls of water. With his eyes still closed he asked, “So what’s so great about sliced bread anyway?”

This is one of my favorite things about kids. They surprise us with wonderfully pure questions as they learn about the world around them. We weren’t even discussing bread, or food for that matter, but I imagine Wyatt’s mind was relaxed and pondering events of the day as the warm water ran off his head and down his back. He must have heard the popular hyperbole or read it somewhere and wanted to know why something would be referred to as “the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

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I laughed to myself, but answered him seriously. I explained that there was a time when everyone had to slice their own bread, before the invention of slicing machine.

“You know how all the slices are the same size in a loaf and it makes it really easy to make a sandwich? Before people would have crooked slices and different thicknesses and maybe kids would fight over which slice they wanted.”

I went on to tell Wyatt that buying sliced bread was just one of those conveniences that changed daily life forever.

With a sparked curiosity, and a squeaky clean kid, I did some research and learned that we owe it all to a Mr. Otto Fredrick Rohwedder of Iowa, who completed his first prototype bread slicer in 1912.  It was destroyed in a fire before it could be used and it wasn’t until 1928 that the first commercial slicing machine worked its greatness on bread.

No good deed goes unpunished though. During World War II, a ban on sliced bread was issued in an effort to ration wax paper. A week later, on January 26, 1943, the New York Times ran an editorial letter written by homemaker, Sue Forrester:

I should like to let you know how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household. My husband and four children are all in a rush during and after breakfast. Without ready-sliced bread I must do the slicing for toast—two pieces for each one—that’s ten. For their lunches I must cut by hand at least twenty slices, for two sandwiches apiece. Afterward I make my own toast. Twenty-two slices of bread to be cut in a hurry!

Sue Forrester and I definitely would have been friends. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, especially about the importance of sliced bread to the “morale and saneness of a household.”  I should like to thank her for reminding me of that, as just this morning I made French toast for breakfast and packed four lunches, each with a turkey sandwich.

The sliced bread ban lasted a total of 49 days before being rescinded.  I’m thinking having hoards of angry housewives wielding knives just wasn’t worth the savings on waxed paper.

I was proud of the teachable moment Wyatt and I shared. I just hope he doesn’t ask me soon how someone can get up a creek without a paddle.

Jill Fales is the mother of four and author of “My Laundry Museum & Other Messy Gifts of Motherhood.” Visit her at JillFales.com.

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