The History of Sliced Bread

Staple Did Not Make Appearance Until 1928

Sliced bread
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A cliche that just about every American knows involves this most basic of store-bought foods: sliced bread. "The greatest thing since sliced bread" is meant to emphasize importance. This phrase would have had obvious meaning for adults in the early part of the 20th century before there was such a thing as store-bought sliced bread. Then in 1928, Otto Frederick Rohwedder created the "greatest invention" -- pre-sliced bread.

But it met with some skepticism: How would he keep it from going stale? Would anyone be interested in buying it?

Bread Before Slicing

Before the invention of pre-sliced bread, bread of all kinds was either baked at home or was bought in full loaves (not sliced) at the bakery. For both home-baked and bakery loaves of bread, the consumer had to personally cut off a slice of bread every time he wanted one, which meant rugged, irregular cuts.This was time-consuming, especially if you were making several sandwiches and needed many slices. It was also very difficult to make uniform, thin slices.

The Bread Slicer

This all changed when Rohwedder, of Davenport, Iowa, invented the Rohwedder Bread Slicer. Rohwedder began working on inventing a bread slicer in 1912. But bakers scoffed at Rohwedder's early slicers; the bakers were sure that the bread would quickly go stale if it was pre-sliced. But Rohwedder was certain that pre-sliced bread would be a major convenience for consumers, and so he continued to work on his invention.

In one attempt to solve the worry about staleness, Rohwedder used hat pins to keep the pieces of bread together in the hopes of keeping the loaf fresh. However, since the hat pins continually fell out, this did not work.

Rohwedder's Solution

In 1928, Rohwedder came up with a way to not only slice bread but also to keep it fresh.

Once the approximately 5-foot long and 3-foot high Rohwedder Bread Slicer sliced the bread, it would also wrap it in a waxed paper to keep it from going stale.

Even with the sliced bread wrapped, many bakers remained dubious. In 1928, Rohwedder traveled to Chillicothe, Missouri, where baker Frank Bench took a chance on this idea and used Rohwedder's invention. The very first loaf of pre-sliced bread went on store shelves on July 7, 1928, as "Sliced Kleen Maid Bread." Bench's sales quickly skyrocketed, and he and Rohwedder knew the invention was a success.

Wonder Bread Makes It Go National

In 1930, Wonder Bread began to commercially produce pre-sliced loaves of bread, popularizing sliced bread and making it a household staple familiar to generations. Soon other brands warmed to the idea, and for decades there has been row upon row of sliced white, rye, wheat, multigrain, rye and raisin bread on grocery store shelves. Very few people living in the 21st century remember a time when there was no sliced bread, but that saying still resonates because sliced bread is still a pretty great convenience.