Bread-Slicing Machine: The Inventor
One might expect that the fellow who invented the bread-slicer would be a baker, but inventor Otto Frederick Rohwedder (1880-1960) was a jeweler. By his early thirties,he was owner of three jewelry stores in St. Joseph, Missouri. However, the skills he used in watch and jewelry repair gave him an interest and an ability to tinker with machines and create new ones, and he came up with the concept of a bread-slicing machine.
When he realized he was close to a breakthrough on his invention, Rohwedder sold his jewelry stores to fund the manufacture of the machines; he worked as a security guard to support himself while working on final changes.
In 1917 a fire in the factory where he had been working destroyed the prototype of the machine as well as the blueprints. This set Rohwedder back by several years as he again had to raise funds and re-create the machinery. He was still convinced there had to be a way to automate the wrapping of the bread as it came out of the slicer. (Bread became stale more quickly when cut into individual slices.)
Rohwedder got back to work, and in 1927 he came up with a way to slice and wrap the bread in one process. The first machine was sold to friend and baker Frank Bench, who installed it in 1928 at the Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri. The first loaf of sliced bread was sold commercially that July.
The bread, advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped,” caught on right away. The pop-up toaster, invented in Britain in 1919 was just becoming popular in the U.S. so Americans were very interested in buying pre-sliced bread where the thin, even slices would fit easily into the new toaster.
Unfortunately Rohwedder ran into trouble. His machine was so popular that his manufacturing plant couldn’t keep up with demand. As a result, other manufacturers began to encroach on sales. Then as the Great Depression settled in, Rohwedder was forced to sell the factory and his patents.
Surprisingly, sliced bread became part of war rationing. In 1943 the sale of sliced bread was banned. The reasoning was that by banning sliced bread, bakeries could reduce consumption of the paper loaves were wrapped in. However, there was so much public outcry the government removed the ban, noting that the War Production Board had been informed that there was plenty of waxed paper to supply the country for several years forward.
Today as much as 80 percent of all bread is sold sliced.