The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread.

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Modern Bread Slicing Machine | Photo by sheepsheadbites.comshepsheadbites.com

I have heard the saying: It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.” my whole life. It’s been used to describe a variety of products and inventions. The one thing I usually took away from its various uses was a question. What about the sliced bread? Whose idea was it and when was it first made? I did some research on the subject and here is what I found out.

Rohwedder Bread Slicer 1932 Patent | image by the atlantic.com
Rohwedder Bread Slicer 1932 Patent | image by the atlantic.com

According to mentalfloss.com “The concept of sliced bread first came about thanks to Otto Rohwedder, an American inventor from Iowa. Rohwedder constructed the first loaf-at-a-time bread slicing machine for commercial use, but initially had some trouble selling it, or even the idea of it; many bakers expressed concerns about the bread becoming stale too quickly or simply falling apart if sliced.”

Otto Rohwedder Standing Behind His Bread Slicing Machine | Photo by dailymail.co.uk
Otto Rohwedder Standing Behind His Bread Slicing Machine | Photo by dailymail.co.uk

His original idea was to use pins to hold the slices together and the Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri was the first to install his slicing machine. They sold “Kleen Maid Sliced Bread” starting July 18th 1928. There was even a set of instructions on how to remove the pins. The better idea of wrapping the freshly cut loaves in a thick waxed paper to prevent the slices from drying out the loaf of bread came next.

Kleen Maid Sliced Bread AD July 7, 1928 | Image by Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune
Kleen Maid Sliced Bread AD July 7, 1928 | Image by Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune

The local newspaper, The Constitution-Tribune ran a full-page ad promoting this product by saying “After all the idea of sliced bread is not unlike the idea of ground coffee, sliced bacon and many other modern and generally accepted products which combine superior results with a saving of time and effort.” The ad claimed “the greatest step forward in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” Could this be where the idea of the phrase “the greatest thing since sliced bread” came from? Maybe, but there is no way to actually prove it.

Wonder Bread Billboard Poster | Photo by fineartamerica.com
Wonder Bread Billboard Sign | Photo by fineartamerica.com

According to mentalfloss.com “By 1930, only two years after the debut of sliced bread, Wonder Bread was building its own machines and distributing pre-sliced loaves of bread throughout the United States. This product is what put Wonder Bread on the map.”

During World War II there was a ban on sliced bread that started in January of 1943 because of the scarcity of materials to make the slicing machines and  the need to conserve the thick waxed paper used to wrap the loaves of bread. The ban lasted only two months due the uproar from both the bread companies and the public. The government also discovered there wasn’t much money saved by stopping sliced bread production.

Having grown up in Rochester, New York I remember a commercial Millbrook Bread. A quick search found this Youtube video of one of their television commercials touting their latest bread formula that removed the large holes that other bread brands had. It is titled “Goodbye   Air Holes.”

I’d be willing to bet that all of you remember the name of a local bread company from your childhood. I know for me the commercials and their jingles are what trigger my childhood memories the most. There is another reference to read that I really must mention.

Bread Box | Photo by thetiffanywindow.wordpress.com
Bread Box | Photo by thetiffanywindow.wordpress.com

It was used on some quiz shows back in the 1950s and 1960s. The game 20 questions usually had this as one of the first questions you would ask if you had to guess under the topic of “things” as an example. “Is it bigger than a bread box?” Many people in the current generations have no idea what a bread box is. It’s a container in the kitchen where you would store the bread to keep it away from moisture and changes in the air temperature in order to keep the bread fresher for a longer time. So the next time you hear someone say ” the greatest thing since sliced bread” you are going to think of the sliced bread itself.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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