History of sliced bread goes back to 1928 when the first slicing machine was used in Missouri, USA, invented by Otto Rohwedder. By mid 1930s (in USA) and 1950s (in UK) sliced bread amounted to 80% of all sold bread.
Do you know the saying that something is best since the sliced bread? It’s usually referred to as something that, is so amazing that it can beat the invention of sliced bread.
Since commercially sliced bread was first available on the market in 1928 in USA, there are probably a lot of things that could be better than that!
But, at the time, sliced bread was a really groundbreaking invention, that was welcomed by the bread manufacturers, as sales of bread rose and by housewives that appreciated the time-saving element of pre-sliced bread.
Whilst these days, I prefer to make my own bread and don’t really buy shop-bought sliced bread, the history of sliced bread is fascinating.
The use of bread before sliced bread invention
Until the beginning of 20 th century all bread was sold as a whole and when you took it home, you had to slice the bread yourself. Typically, you would just cut one slice at the time, which would keep your bread fresh and prevent it from drying out.
Development of the first bread slicer machine by Otto Rohwedder
Whilst bread slicing machines for home use were available in the early 20th century, the idea for more for more commercial use originally came from USA and an inventor called Otto Frederick Rohwedder from Davenport, Iowa USA.
Rohwedder was originally jeweller by trade, who also studied optometry at the university in Chicago. He must have been pretty successful at this trade as he end up owning three jewellery shops.
But it looked like his interest lay elsewhere, as he started to work on a prototype of bread slicer. To fund the development, he sold his shops and decided to focus solely on working on his own designs.
He started to work on his first bread slicing machine originally around 1912, but it wasn’t until 1928 when he was able to present a fully functioning commercial bread slicing machine.
This was because the first slicing machine prototype and the designs was burned in the fire, when the first factory was damaged by the fire in 1917.
The first company to use the bread slicing machine was Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri, USA,who’s owner Frank Bench was a close friend of Otto Rohwedder. The first sliced bread was produced on the 7th July 1928. On the first day both Otto Rohwedder and his son Richard who was 13 at the time were present. Richard was the first person who held the first sliced bread as it came out of the machine!
To give you an idea how big deal this was, the use of the slicing bread machine has increased bakery sales by 2000 % within the first 2 weeks of it’s use! Now, you can just about start to understand the statement ‘that something is better than sliced bread’.
The second original bread slicing machine which was a fairly big piece of equipment (57 in x 38 in x 72 in or 144.78 cm x 96.52 cm x 182.88 cm) is now displayed in museum in Smithsonian Institution in Washingon, DC, USA. The first ever slicing machine didn’t survive, because it apparently fell apart after the first 6 months of very heavy use!
Otto Rohwedder carried on developing various improvements to his machine and between 1927 to 1936 patented seven different designs.
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Further improvements to the original bread slicer machine by Gustav Papendick
As with any new inventions, there were some people, that didn’t welcome the changes. Bread producers didn’t like the idea that the sliced bread dried out too quickly and could get spoiled quicker than a traditional un-sliced loaf of bread.
Once the bread machine could effectively slice bread, the next problem that needed solving was safe packaging and preventing the bread slices from falling apart.
This where Gustav Papendick a baker from St. Louis, USA comes in. He realised that the original Rohwedder’s bread slicer machine needed improving to allow more effective way of wrapping the sliced bread.
First of all he tried to keep the bread slices together with elastic rubber bands and even metal pins, but this method didn’t work. As you can imagine, the rubber bands squished the soft sliced bread and the metal pins didn’t stick in the bread properly and fell out before he could wrap the bread.
Eventually, Papendick thought of keeping the bread on a cardboard tray, which held the bread together long enough to allow the packaging machine to wrap the bread.
Papendick used wax paper, which was sturdier than regular paper and less porous, which meant that the sliced bread wouldn’t dry out as quickly as before.
Wider use of the bread slicing & wrapping machine
It took another two years, before the first well known sliced bread called ‘Wonder Bread’ was produced in 1930.
From then on, the use of Rohwedder’s bread slicing machine took the bread industry by storm. By 1933 most bread bakeries in USA have adopted the machine and a staggering 80% of all sold bread was sold as ‘sliced’.
The USA ban on sliced bread
Another little chapter in the sliced bread history happened during the second world war. Because sliced bread was easy to prepare and use, people started to eat bread more. I’m sure there was probably more wastage too, since that’s what’s happening now.
The USA government tried to manage the shortage of food during the war, by banning sliced bread from the shops. Fortunately this ban didn’t last very long, as people protested and it turned out that the food saving wasn’t that significant after all.
There is rather touching letter to the news editor published in the newspaper during the war, where housewife complaints how much time she needs to spend each morning to cup up un-sliced bread.
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Better than sliced bread
Whilst most of the bread companies produced one type of sliced bread in one packaging, some bakers tried to be innovative, by producing one bread loaf half cut in thin slices and half cut in thick slices.
This was back in the 1933, when the bread company advertisement proudly claimed that having different thickness of slices in each loaf packaging is the ‘first improvement since the sliced bread’.
Later on in 1940, another bread company decided to protect the freshness of their sliced bread by wrapping the loaf into two parts and then wrapping them into another outside packaging to prevent the bread from drying and getting spoiled. Their advertising said, that this was ‘ the greatest convenience since sliced bread’.
History of sliced bread in the Great Britain (UK)
The UK was slightly behind USA in implementing the slicing machines, but in 1937 the first slicing and wrapping bread machine was used in London by the Wonderloaf Bakery in Tottenham.
It took a little longer for the sliced bread to become produced countrywide, but similarly to the USA by the 1950s about 80% of all bread sold in the UK was sliced.
The thickness of slices varies depending on the brand and you can find mostly medium or thick sliced bread in the UK supermarkets. Some companies also sell thick and extra thick sliced bread, which is great for a decadent toast served with butter and jam.
You can also find thinly sliced bread, which is budget friendly (as you get more slices out of the same size loaf) and it’s perfect to use for sandwiches.
Sliced bread today
Sliced bread is still the most favourite type of bread to be sold worldwide and each country has a slightly different thickness of bread slices depending on their use.
It’s also, unfortunately, the most wasted food as some surveys have shown, that significant amount of sliced bread ends up in the bin. This is partly because sliced bread is generally very cheap to buy (or much cheaper than the artisan type of breads) and unfortunately doesn’t always taste all that great.
Some of the breads produced in the UK that contain a lot of dough improvers, excessive amount of yeast and other extra ingredients that ment to make the bread to rise very quickly and also to preserve the bread.
In some countries in Europe (for example in the Czech Republic) you can select a wholemeal sourdough loaf of bread, which is displayed as a whole loaf and you have the option to cut it in the shop yourself by putting it through a bread slicing machine.
This way, you can buy a great bread and then have the convenience of taking it home pre-sliced (without buying soft pappy bread that some of the pre-sliced breads are).
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How to make sliced bread at home
Whilst I love the way fresh bread feels and carving the first slice of bread gives me such a great sense of achievement, I appreciate that not everyone is like that.
If you are struggling to cut even slices from your homemade bread, you can buy one of the home slicing machines, which can also be used for meat, vegetables or cheese. You can easily adjust the thickness of slices and only cut what you actually need at the time.
There is a medium cost investment, but if you use it for other foods, I’m sure you’ll make a good use of the home slicing machine. You can check the prices and compare wide range of the most modern bread slicers online on Amazon or in large stores.
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Alternatively, you can also choose a budget option for your home bread slicer – a bread slicer guide. This little gadget is very easy to use, you just put your bread inside the guide and use regular bread knife to cut the slice. The wooden or plastic guides will make sure that each of your slices is as neat as each other.
These wooden or plastic bread cutting guides are fairly inexpensive and make a great practical gift for your bread baking friends.
To make a delicious white loaf that will look like a shop bought one, it’s best to use a large 2 lb rectangle cake tin or special bread baking tin to hold your bread.
You can also use so-called Pulman bread tin, which is a large long bread tin that has a lid that makes perfectly square bread. To make sure that your bread is as soft as it can be, use strong white bread flour combined with scalded flour baking method or at least a portion of homemade potato flour to make your bread deliciously light.
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