Sliced bread turns 85

We take it for granted now, but getting this product ready for commercial sales was no easy task.

By Kim Peterson Jul 10, 2013 3:31PM
A bag of Wonder Bread
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty ImagesBread has been around for ages, but commercially sliced and packaged bread doesn't even have a century under its belt yet.

Sliced bread, a phenomenon so beloved that it spawned its own "greatest thing" catchphrase, turned 85 years old this week, The Atlantic notes. The first wrapped package of sliced bread was sold on July 7, 1928, by the Chillicothe Baking Co. in Missouri.

With what seems like 5,000 kinds of sliced bread on grocery shelves these days, it's hard to imagine a time when bread was sold only whole and freshly made. It took quite a while to develop a machine that could slice an entire loaf of bread at once and package it for public sale.

A jeweler from Missouri named Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented such a machine in 1912, according to The Atlantic, but his machine was destroyed in a fire. He filed a patent for an improved machine 15 years later. It didn't produce the prettiest sliced bread, however, and other inventors would tinker with the design.

A St. Louis baker bought Rohwedder's machine and tweaked it so it would slice loaves in cardboard trays and wrap them in wax paper, Don Voorhees writes in his book "Why do Donuts Have Holes? Fascinating Facts About What We Eat and Drink." Chillicothe, named for its hometown in Missouri, was the first commercial bakery to give the machine a shot.

But sliced bread didn't really take off nationally until -- you guessed it -- Wonder Bread came along. Continental Baking began slicing and shipping Wonder Bread in the 1930s, although consumers were skeptical that this sliced bread would not dry out, according to the Where Food Comes From site. No one was praising the "greatest thing since sliced bread" just yet.

World War II brought all bread slicing to a halt because of a steel shortage. The bread slicers returned in 1945, however, and the pre-cut Wonder Bread took off.

By the way, Wonder Bread took a huge bite out of two diseases, beriberi and pellagra, that had plagued the country until then. That's because Continental Baking began enriching the bread with vitamins and minerals in the 1940s. The bread's impact on those two diseases is sometimes called the "quiet miracle," according to Where Food Comes From.

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Tags: Food
Jul 10, 2013 4:40PM
What was the greatest thing before sliced bread?
Jul 10, 2013 5:26PM
The greatest invention before sliced bread was toilet sht
Jul 10, 2013 5:55PM
-- sugar  has  no place in  bread

Actually Brian, I bake bread.  You need a little sugar to "proof" the yeast.  You don't need much, maybe a tsp., but I make it the way my mother made, her mother made it, etc.
Jul 10, 2013 5:09PM
Happy birthday sliced bread! You have made making sandwiches so much easier!
Jul 10, 2013 5:40PM
We just had an open house at our County Museum for the Original Bread slicer. It is on loan from the Smithsonian Museum. 

I suppose my community could be know for worse things. So, Thank YOU for mentioning my town as the "Home of Sliced Bread!"

Proud citizen of Chillicothe, MO!
Amazing convenience that is so commonly taken for granted now.
Jul 10, 2013 5:57PM

A sandwich is the next best thing. Well tolet paper. too.

Jul 11, 2013 1:11PM
I wonder if there is a law firm out there waiting to file a lawsuit on behalf the guy who bought Rohwedder's machine for royalties that he is owed (less their multi-million dollar fee).
Jul 10, 2013 5:43PM
What was the greatest thing before sliced bread and toilet paper?
Jul 11, 2013 2:11PM
Commercially made bread is the worst-the crap they put into it is scary. I don't even go into the bread isle anymore. GMO, chemically laden, heavily processed....for being a country that is touted as all that we are poisoning our people with the food supply and we pay for an agency FDA that condones it!
Jul 10, 2013 4:42PM
sliced bread is  total garbage   overpriced overchemicaled and  has sugar in it------------ sugar  has  no place in  bread

buy  bread freshly baked old  fashioned  way------ if  loaf  too big  cut in  half  and  put in freezer -----
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