The Best Thing Since….

by Don Boudreaux on July 7, 2009

in Complexity & Emergence, Everyday Life, Food and Drink, History

Today is the 81st anniversary of sliced bread — an invention, as mundane as it seems to us today, that has contributed more to human welfare than any 1,000 randomly selected politicians you can name.  (This standard, I realize, is hardly a demanding one.)  Oh, and note: the successful invention of sliced bread was indeed an invention; it required human creativity and ingenuity.

(HT Carrie Conko)

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DAVE July 7, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Nice and all but it's still not the wheel……

John S. July 7, 2009 at 6:01 pm

My old car pool partner (may he rest in peace) told me that during WWII, the government made bread producers stop pre-slicing their bread in a bid to save energy. He said that by that time, nobody knew how to slice bread anymore, or they no longer had the correct knives to do it, and so people wound up turning a lot of the loaf into crumbs.

I've always wondered whether any part of that story was true, or whether it just was an urban legend he heard somewhere.

Sam Grove July 7, 2009 at 7:28 pm

Nice and all but it's still not the wheel……

And what would be the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel?

Eric H July 7, 2009 at 8:30 pm

That Wikipedia link is pure gold for the mention made of "Area Supervisors of the Food Distribution Administration", the "Office of Price Administration" and the "Food Administrator." Knowing those things are gone filled me with optimism. Then I followed this link to the entry for the Office of Price Administration, and my optimism faded.

Matt July 7, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Sliced bread is fine, but I rather prefer the creation of joint stock companies. Think Wonderbread and Bridgestone.

vidyohs July 7, 2009 at 10:13 pm

"And what would be the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel?

Posted by: Sam Grove | Jul 7, 2009 7:28:40 PM"

The axle, ball bearings and grease, pnuematic tire, and smooth roads, all have done more for the welfare of man than sliced bread and 1,000 pliticians.

Oh, and in 1956 I invented sex. Positively better than sliced bread. ;O)

vidyohs July 7, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Seriously though, I hate store bought sliced bread, won't touch the crap.

Well, I do use thin sliced whitebread to make the shells for my Croustades Duxelle when I have company over. Then my wife makes bread pudding of the rims that I have cut off.

It isn't the slicing that I dislike per se, it is the bread itself, the ingredients and the texture. There are some commercial breads that actually use wood cellulous as a filler, and preservatives that would make King Tut envious.

However in reference to the slicing in uniform slices, well I enjoy the pleasure of making an open face breakfast sandwich by slicing off an inch thick piece of homemade whole wheat bread, slathering homemade lemon/rosemary ghee on it, then putting two slices of turkey breast and two slices of cheese on top of it, microwaving it for 20 seconds and eating it on the way to a job. Can't make that kind of breakfast on a tiny little half inch slice of commercial bread and have it turn out near so filling or delicious.

I do have to admit though that my slicing eye wanders a bit at times as I am not the best one in the world at cutting straight lines……don't want me on a construction job where you plan to sell my work to someone else! LOL! It is a miracle I get the tapes to thread straight, and considering that they go in in a cassette, that's saying something!

vidyohs July 7, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Apologies to the hosts for the last post, my domestic Syrah has me mellow.



Sam Grove July 7, 2009 at 11:20 pm

The axle, ball bearings and grease, pnuematic tire,

All improvements to the wheel.

and smooth roads

Made possible and desirable by the wheel and its improvements.

And you certainly sound mellow.

Gil July 8, 2009 at 1:59 am

Wow vidyohs! You're so lucid and full of commonsense! Bwahahahaha! XP

vidyohs July 8, 2009 at 6:14 am

Good morning Gilhuahua; actually, yes I was, thank you.

No senor Sam, the axle isn't an improvement of the wheel, it is a seperate device altogether, without which the wheel is useless. I am sure that back in the distant times someone made a wheel and sat and looked at it for a long long time before coming up with the axle.

Ball bearings make use of the wheel more efficient and grease makes the ball bearings last longer.

Pnuematic tires make use of the wheel more comfortable, as do smooth roads; but seperate devices for sure.

Reinvention of the wheel was never, and is never, a waste of time, because the attempts brought us all those improvements in its usage which translated into greater value from the basic invention.

Eric Hammer July 8, 2009 at 8:46 am

I love how in '43 the government actually banned sliced bread.
An enterprising anti-governmental control type fellow should probably create a list of all the fantastically foolish follies of government, federal or otherwise, as evidence that politicians are generally pretty moronic.

John July 8, 2009 at 9:00 am

I stopped making my own bread for the same reason I'll use the propane grill in a blizzard.
Running that electric oven ain't cheap.

vidyohs July 8, 2009 at 9:33 am


True, but some things one does because it is worth it. I also have only my wife and I, so I make two huge loaves and freeze one. For two weeks plus, this gives us fresh whole wheat bread without preservatives and other BS. I never have the bread get moldy or be wasted.

I think knowing what is in my bread and who the baker is gives me a lot of peace of mind and personal satisfaction.

I don't mind the slicing. I use my electric carving knife and it does a good quick job.

Here is a tip for all potential home bakers of bread, and you John if you ever decide to get back into it.

Go to a restaurant supply store, buy two (or more) buffet line vegetable pans that measure 6" deep, 10" long, and 5" wide. They will be of stainless steel and make the best bread pans you can find. Even a novice can produce great loaves. Also invest in a really good heavy duty mixer with a dough hook (worth its weight in gold to a baker) as kneading is all important.

I don't do it for the expense, I do it for the taste and health.

DAVE July 8, 2009 at 10:31 am

""And what would be the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel?"

Well I guess sex, if we take vidyohs at his word.

The broader point is that (unlike sex) someone actually had to invent all these things. It didn't just happen. The wheel did not exist until someone who was under no obligation to, invented it.

But I'll bet that is soon as it caught on, all the other people in the cave suddenly had a "right" to a wheel and were entitled to one just by existing. Soon the inventor of the wheel was forced to make wheels for everyone for fear that his skull would be smashed by the leader of the tribe who had also warned him to make it to certain specifications or else.

Of course the next time he had an idea that would benefit the tribe, he did not pursue it as it was of no benefit to him and it was no longer worth his while.

There may have been others who also had some great ideas how to improve life for themselves and those around them, but they were scared off once they saw what happened to the poor sucker who invented the wheel.

vidyohs July 8, 2009 at 10:45 am

That was dark, DAVE, really really dark. Feeling a bit on the bleek side are we? ;-D

DAVE July 8, 2009 at 11:22 am

- Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose


(The rough translation being: the more things change the more they remain the same.)

Anyway, I am having a sandwich right now that involves two pieces of sliced bread and I am grateful that I am able to make lunch in record time thanks to all these wonderful little inventions.

Because of all the selfish and greedy people who in their own self interest created bread slicers, toasters, sandwich makers, coffee machines, refrigerators and flush toilets, my morning routine is far more efficient, pleasurable and even luxurious compared to my grandparents a mere seventy years ago.

Sam Grove July 8, 2009 at 11:49 am

I don't think a wheel would be a wheel without the axle. Otherwise it's just a disk, or an ornament to hang on the wall of a trendy restaurant.

DAVE July 8, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Sam the original idea probably started out as a log with a board or something on it and would roll a few feet at a time. Eventually someone got the wheel idea and civilization would never be the same again.

What's amazing is that someone could just as easily not have gotten that particular idea and who knows what direction civilization would have taken.

Then again, who knows how many ideas were never put to test or failed the first time and was never tried again. Who knows where we would be as a civilization if some person somewhere would get some (at the time) harebrained idea and put it into practice?

A century and a half ago someone would have asked the same question and ended it with the words "like flying".

Sam Grove July 8, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Sam the original idea probably started out as a log with a board or something on it and would roll a few feet at a time.

To move large rocks into place. Not a very worthwhile idea until you come up with the practice of a series of logs which can me moved to the front as they emerge from the back. A log brigade.

Dan Hill July 8, 2009 at 2:20 pm

It's interesting isn't it, that even when a commenter (vidyohs) doesn't need THIS invention because he makes his own bread, he does that using stainless steel pans, and an electric mixer and then cuts the bread with his electric knife…as he says "even a novice can produce great loaves" which I suspect for most of human history wasn't true (and it wasn't the quality of bread that people were worried about, but the quantity)

vidyohs July 8, 2009 at 2:45 pm

"I don't think a wheel would be a wheel without the axle. Otherwise it's just a disk, or an ornament to hang on the wall of a trendy restaurant.
Posted by: Sam Grove | Jul 8, 2009 11:49:10 AM"

Last word. I have in my garage a spare full size wheel. I testify and certify it is a wheel. It even has a good radial pnuematic tire on it.

No axle to be seen.

Even you, Sam, would walk into my garage look at it and say, "That's a wheel." Of course it is almost useless without that other unique companion invention, the axle.

The reason I say almost useless because spare wheels and tires such as the one I have in my garage once became a plaything for us poor "lil chirens". We would get them upright, push them into a fast roll and then jump on them and experience a quick ride over the wheel, the bigger the wheel or tire, the more fun.

So even without an axle a wheel can serve a purpose.

With that I roll outa this conversation.

Sam Grove July 8, 2009 at 3:34 pm

It's a wheel because it's made to go on an axle. If there were no axles, you probably wouldn't have a wheel in your garage. I suppose that the invention of the axle marked the beginning of the wheel.

DAVE July 8, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Really sorry about the wheel reference.

This thread is going nowhere.

vidyohs July 9, 2009 at 6:07 am

Okay Sam,

For you I'll concede. An axle is really a wheel. Same for ballbearings and grease.

Which will change my conversations with the clerk at AutoZone a whole lot next time I go in for those particular parts.

Sam Grove July 9, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Semantics, vidyohs.

Everything you cite are enhancements to the wheel, not entirely different, yet significant inventions, like the motor.

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