July 7, 2022

HERE’S TO YOU, MR. OTTO FREDERICK ROHWEDDER:  I didn’t realize it till today, but I am only one generation removed from the advent of commercially available sliced bread.  On this day in 1928 (after the birth of my parents), the Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri began marketing pre-sliced loaves of bread.  These loaves were an instant hit, made possible by a bread slicing and wrapping machine invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa.

So popular did these time-saving, pre-sliced loaves turn out to be that they gave rise to the saying, “It’s the best thing since sliced bread.”  Many a great invention has come along since 1928—from the transistor to helicopters to personal computers to gene-editing.  But seldom does anyone say an invention is better than sliced bread.

For a very brief period in 1943, sliced bread was banned by Secretary of Agriculture Claude Wickard (of Wickard v. Filburn fame).  It’s not easy to come up with a sillier wartime conservation method.   A letter to the New York Times summed up the reaction of many American women (and men):

I should like to let you know how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household. My husband and four children are all in a rush during and after breakfast. Without ready-sliced bread I must do the slicing for toast—two pieces for each one—that’s ten. For their lunches I must cut by hand at least twenty slices, for two sandwiches apiece. Afterward I make my own toast. Twenty-two slices of bread to be cut in a hurry!

Initially government officials made threats to take “stern measures if needed” to stop the sale of sliced bread.  But it didn’t take all that long for the ban to be rescinded.

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