It was 1776, the American Revolution was not going well for the colonies, and General Washington needed something to keep up the morale of his unpaid and restless troops. He called on Tom Paine to write something akin to Patrick Henry's "Liberty or Death" speech.
But Paine had writer's block and couldn't think of a catchy sentence for the first line in his proposed pamphlet supporting the Revolution. The rest of it came easily, particularly the bit about "summer soldiers and sunshine patriots." But how would he begin the piece?
At that moment a farmer came into the tavern where Paine was writing and sat down at the next table. The man was dripping wet, soaked by the storm raging outside. When he put his feet on a chair to warm them by the heat from the fireplace, Paine noticed that his shoes were not only water-logged but had small holes in the bottom. To Paine's surprise, when the farmer removed the shoes to further warm his feet, he also removed folded sheets of paper from inside the shoes. The paper had somehow kept his feet dry. Paine saw that the paper consisted of pages from a recent edition of The Times of London, which still circulated in the colonies despite the war. Noticing Paine's amazement at the dryness of his feet, the farmer explained:
"These are The Times that dry men's soles." And that's how Paine got the idea for the opening line he was looking for.