Which is better, curing diseases or making sandwiches?
When somebody tells you that a new invention is the best thing since sliced bread, be aware that the bread-slicing machine was invented in 1928. Alexander Flemming discovered penicillin that year, so some people might quibble over which we should use as our standard.
Which is better, curing diseases or making sandwiches? I suppose it depends on whether we’re discussing it before or after lunch.
Regardless, 1928 was a long time ago and there have been a lot of cool inventions since then, not the least of which were Teflon in 1938, Velcro in 1948, and AstroTurf in 1965.
The oldest among us might claim that sliced bread — you could slice your own — shouldn’t even be the invention to which we compare all our later achievements. After all, the Band-Aid was invented in 1920. The zipper was invented in 1917. We started doing crossword puzzles in 1913. And we’ve been drinking instant coffee since 1909.
For that matter, a lot of things invented through the years might instead have been “the greatest thing since the safety razor,” which Gillette invented in 1901. That prevented slicing, which the person shaving might consider far more important than being able to make toast in the morning.
If we wanted to be really conservative, we could say that modern inventions are “the best thing since Post-It notes” or “the best thing since liposuction,” both of which were invented in the 1970s.
We could say the inventions we consider nifty — a lot of them have their own infommercials — are the “best thing since the automatic teller machine,” which started appearing in America late in the 1960s.
Or we could claim them all as the best things “since the transistor radio” or “since the radial tire,” which both were invented the same year in the 1950s.
On the other hand, we may not want to say that anything is “the best thing since the atomic bomb,” which we came up with in the 1940s. It sends the wrong message when we praise an invention that, technically, is used to blow up all out other inventions.
Many would argue that the greatest of our inventions should be “the best thing since the polio vaccine,” which Dr. Jonas Salk invented in 1954.
I’ll have to say that most of the things on this page would have to be “the best thing since the spiral-bound notebook” — invented in 1934 — since that’s the thing in which I initially listed them.
Contact Gary Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.