Minnesota may have been the birthplace of the Nerf Football (true story, click here), but Iowa is the birthplace of something far more important. Sliced bread.

Let's Meet Otto, Iowa's Inventor of the Bread Slicer

1930 photograph from the magazine Popular Science with the caption, "The new electric bread slicing machine at work in a St. Louis, Mo. bakery. The operator is holding one of the sliced loaves." The accompanying article does not identify the bakery but this may have been the machine invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, whose 2nd slicing machine was purchased by Gustav Papendick of Papendick Bakery Company in St. Louis who worked out a process to wrap the sliced loaf automatically.
1930 photograph from the magazine Popular Science with the caption, "The new electric bread slicing machine at work in a St. Louis, Mo. bakery. The operator is holding one of the sliced loaves." The accompanying article does not identify the bakery but this may have been the machine invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, whose 2nd slicing machine was purchased by Gustav Papendick of Papendick Bakery Company in St. Louis who worked out a process to wrap the sliced loaf automatically. (LINK)
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To be precise, and in matters such as inventions it is best to be precise, it was 1912 when Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa invented the first single load bread slicing machine. Then, it was 1917 when it was destroyed in a fire. Sounds like a cruel joke, but there it is.

Don't worry, Mr. Rohwedder wasn't just loafing around, he was early to bed and early to rise until he had a fully working machine again. That was 1928, and it was first used commercially on July 7, 1928, at the Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri. Using Rohwedder's machine, they names it "Kleen Maid Sliced Bread" and it was a success.

However, Battle Creek, Michigan says they were the first city to sell bread that's been thru the slicer. While Chillicothe Baking Company can prove they did it, the Battle Creek claim has no supporting evidence. They're likely quite crusty about it.

Shorpy.com - November 1939. "Slicing bread at bakery. San Angelo, Texas." Medium format negative by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration.
Shorpy.com - November 1939. "Slicing bread at bakery. San Angelo, Texas." Medium format negative by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration. Click for link.
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Chillicothe Baking Company said the bread was, "the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped." That's all well and good, but it doesn't have the ring of, "The best thing since sliced bread" because, whoopee, you wrapped the bread.

Anyone could wrap the bread. Got a cloth? A newspaper? Maybe some leftover butcher paper? Boom. Wrapped bread. A breeze.

The Automatic Bread Slicer is BANNED!

Why would they ban the bread slicer? Obviously, it was rotting the minds of children, degrading society, and turning our pure women into harlots, right?

Shorpy.com - April 1943. "Women workers employed as wipers in the roundhouse having lunch in their rest room, Chicago & North Western Railroad, Clinton, Iowa." Marcella Hart is at left, Mrs. Elibia Siematter at right. Kodachrome transparency by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information.
Shorpy.com - April 1943. "Women workers employed as wipers in the roundhouse having lunch in their rest room, Chicago & North Western Railroad, Clinton, Iowa." Marcella Hart is at left, Mrs. Elibia Siematter at right. Kodachrome transparency by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information.
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Naw. That was what comic books did. Or slow dancing. The ban was not on the use of the bread slicing machine, but on sliced bread, as a part of wartime conservation. The ban started on January 18, 1943, and officials said sliced loaves need a heavier wrapping, and that wastes needed wartime material.

The people were NOT happy. According to this article, a letter appeared in the New York Times,

"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!" (source)

The fuss got bigger when New York's mayor said bakeries with the equipment should be allowed to slice away, but the government responded, "Stop!" This time it was about fair competition, "to protect the cooperating bakeries against the unfair competition of those who continue to slice their own bread... we are prepared to take stern measures if necessary." (source)

MNHS Photo
MNHS Photo
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My March of 1943, the ban was kaput, the people claiming victory, and the government saying, basically, "Well, it wasn't saving as much money as we thought and there seems to be plenty of wax paper for wrapping, so go on and slice, ya ninny heads!"

I made that quote up, but you know they were thinking it!

As always, if you have a comment, complaint, or concern about something I wrote here, please let me know: james.rabe@townsquaremedia.com

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