The greatest thing since...
By Tom Range, Sr.
Upon hearing this oft-quoted cliché listeners will invariably respond in unison: "sliced bread." Since the 1950s sliced bread has been the benchmark of scientific progress. But why specifically "sliced bread?"
No one can reasonably hold that the invention of a bread-slicing machine, to the exclusion of all other inventions since being patented in 1928 by Otto Rohwedder of Iowa, presents any particular significance. The inventor, a jewelry store owner began work on a machine for slicing bread in 1912. In 1922, he actually received financing for his idea. The application of his invention to mass-produce pre-sliced bread occurred with the introduction of his machinery to production of commercially packaged loaves of Wonder Bread in 1930.
The familiar "corner bakery" models, where the purchaser was given the option of having their freshly baked loaf sliced or carried home whole, spread to neighborhoods across the country and are still being used in the local bakeries. At first the bakers and some customers were wary of the machines, thinking that once sliced, the bread would go stale quickly. The harried housewife soon learned that the convenience offered by this new product far outweighed the possibility of the bread going stale. If the wife and mother prepared sandwiches for school-age children, plus one for her husband's lunch pail, a loaf of bread would disappear long before any chance of its becoming dried out. And with pre-cut slices, each kiddie could prepare his/her own sandwich with slices of equal dimensions, avoiding the lament, "Waa, Howie got a thicker slice than I did!" The young mother might even have at least the heels of the loaf to enjoy with her cup of coffee, once her family was off to their schools and factory.
Rohwedder's invention was installed in commercial establishments in Chillicothe, MO and Battle Creek, MI in 1928; and by 1933 about 80 per cent of America's bread was sold pre-sliced and packaged in waxed paper bags by industrial bakeries. Freshly baked whole loaves remain available at local bakeshops, where if requested, the bread is sliced before the purchaser's eyes and nose, releasing its unmistakable mouth-watering aroma.
Along with toasting machines developed by Frank Shailor in 1909, to which timers and pop-up features were applied by Charles Strite in 1919, pre-sliced bread relieved the homemaker of the slicing chore (perhaps also the inevitable nicked finger) and enshrined "sliced bread" as a milestone in human inventiveness.
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