Bread is one of the world’s oldest prepared foods. There’s evidence humans were whipping up a crude form of the stuff some 30,000 years ago. Sliced bread, however, has been around for less than a century. The first automatically sliced commercial loaves were produced on July 6, 1928, in Chillicothe, Missouri, using a machine invented by Otto Rohwedder, an Iowa-born, Missouri-based jeweler. Rohwedder’s quest to make sliced bread a reality was not without its challenges. A 1917 fire destroyed his prototype and blueprints, and he also faced skepticism from bakers, who thought factory-sliced loaves would quickly go stale or fall apart. Nevertheless, in 1928, Rohwedder’s rebuilt “power-driven, multi-bladed” bread slicer was put into service at his friend Frank Bench’s Chillicothe Baking Company.
Rohwedder’s newfangled contraption was greeted with an enthusiastic report in the July 6, 1928, edition of the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune, which noted that while some people might find sliced bread “startling,” the typical housewife could expect “a thrill of pleasure when she first sees a loaf of this bread with each slice the exact counterpart of its fellows. So neat and precise are the slices, and so definitely better than anyone could possibly slice by hand with a bread knife that one realizes instantly that here is a refinement that will receive a hearty and permanent welcome.” The article also recounted that “considerable research” had gone into determining the right thickness for each slice: slightly less than half an inch.
Sliced bread didn’t take long to become a hit around the United States, even as some bakers contended it was just a fad, and by 1930 it could be found in most towns across the country. By that point, the majority of Americans were eating commercially made bread, compared with just decades earlier, when most of the supply still was homemade. The factory-produced loaves were designed to be softer than those prepared at home or at small, local bakeries because the bread-buying public had come to equate “squeezable softness” with freshness, according to “White Bread” by Aaron Bobrow-Strain. The timing therefore was right for an automatic slicing machine because, as Bobrow-Strain says, these softer, “modern loaves had become almost impossible to slice neatly at home.” Read more