Bread has been the staple diet of people in many parts of Europe. Earlier only whole loaves of bread were available and the loaf had to be sliced by hand. The introduction of sliced bread brought about a huge change in the bread industry. So much so that this invention gave birth to the expression, “It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread!” whenever anything new was invented.
This change was brought about by Otto Frederick Rohwedder in 1912 when he first envisioned the prospects of sliced bread. Living in Iowa, Rohwedder was a jeweler by profession. Having put his mind to working on a mechanical bread slicer, he sold three of his jewelry stores and used the money for his new venture.
Rohwedder started working on prototypes of the machine, one of which included holding the bread together with metal pins. This design however was not successful. A factory in Monmouth, Illinois agreed to manufacture the first slicing machine. But in the year 1917, Rohwedder faced a huge setback when a fire broke out in the factory and destroyed the prototype along with all the blueprints.
Rohwedder did not give up. He worked as an investment and security agent to support his family while simultaneously working to improve the design of the slicer. An important problem that he had to deal with was the fact that the bread would go stale more quickly, once sliced. In 1927, he came up with a machine which not only sliced the bread but also wrapped it. He filed for a patent in 1928. The first of his machines was used at Chillicothe Baking Company in Missouri. The bread was sold under the name Sliced Kleen Maid Bread.
People loved the convenience sliced bread offered and soon its popularity soared. Interestingly, another invention, that of a pop-up toaster invented by Charles Strite in 1919 also gained popularity. In 1929, Rohwedder set up his own company Mac-Roh Sales & Manufacturing in Davenport.
Today, almost 80% of bread is sold sliced.
- 1001 Inventions That Changed The World – Automatic Bread Slicer, Pg. 610
- The greatest thing since. . . A look at the history of sliced bread and its jeweler inventor as it celebrates 85th anniversary – Mail Online
- Bread Slicer – Ideafinder.com