Tasteful Inventions: Bigger than a Breadbox

Monday, July 7, 2008

Bigger than a Breadbox

It's the day after Independence Day and I'm preparing this post in celebration of sliced bread which will be 80 years old on July 7th of this year. Now, don't get all your bread crumbs unseasoned, I'm not talking about a slice of bread. I'm talking about Otto Frederick Rohwedder and the invention of the first machine to slice bread. Otto Frederick Rohwedder is fondly remembered as the "father of sliced bread" for good reason. Before the debut of the first loaf of sliced bread on July 7, 1928 at the Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri, he experienced his share of challenges.

Bigger than a Breadbox

The invention of the bread slicer was not a surprise to Otto Frederick Rohwedder. He had conceived the idea in the early 1900's. Some say it was 15 years in the making. Why so long? How difficult could it be to design a machine that could both symmetrical slice and wrap loaves of bread in the 1920's? Ah, if that was all there was to marketing an invention in untested waters. No, Otto had his share of trying times. There were the financial difficulties for one. I'm going to say Otto Frederick Rohwedder was a successful man before he had the notion to design a mammoth sized bread slicing machine. (It was approximately five feet long and three feet high.) He married Carrie Sophie Johnson in 1905. He apprenticed to a jeweler, he graduated North Illinois College with a degree in ophthalmology. When he came up with his innovated idea, he owned three jewelry stores in Missouri. Yes, I would say he was doing just fine.  Although personally Otto may have been doing well financially, it was going to take more than the sale of his three jewelry stores to finance and revolutionize the baking business. He needed backers. Well, it seems he had enough money to draw up the plans, build a prototype and contract a factory to produce his first slicing machine. Unfortunately, fate stepped in and all of Roh's (he liked to be called by Roh) efforts went up in smoke. There was a fire at the factory in Illinois where the machine was suppose to be built in 1917. It would take years for him to come up with new financing. Then, he met with skepticism. Bakers rejected the notion that a sliced bread machine would keep the bread fresh after it was sliced. They argued it would become dried and stale. Otto forged on. He added a device that automatically wrapped the bread in wax paper to keep it fresh.
...The crust of a loaf is dry and very hard and the inside soft and application of knives usually results in flattening of the loaf. It was impossible to satisfactorily slice bread, a slice at a time. So the inventor adopted the principle of simultaneously cutting all the slices of a loaf in a single operation. Two banks of thin sharp steel blades are utilized, held truly in two frames so placed in relation to each other that one bank of blades moves upward while the other bank moves downward. The cutting edges are all in the same plane and alternated so that while one blade moves upward its immediate neighbor moves downward. This alternating movement satisfactorily creates a compensation of pull so that a clean sharp cutting without disturbing the shape of the loaf results. As the blades pass through the soft bread, the loaf closes immediately behind the blades and keeps the air out. These perfect surfaces of slices fit snugly against each other and adhere surprisingly, thus retaining the freshness of the bread. Means for carrying the loaf to the blades and passing the loaf through the blades are but few of the many mechanical difficulties which have been overcome. The machine has been developed until today it is capable of perfectly slicing 1,200 to 1,400 loaves per hour...source

The Delivery

Not a deed would he do, Not a word would he utter, Till he's weighed its relation To plain bread and butter. James Russell Lowell
Otto Frederick Rohwedder's un-yielding patience (15 years) and determination were finally rewarded when Frank Bench, a baker and friend at the Chillicothe Baking Company agreed to use the machine. Nowhere in the world were bakers selling sliced loaves of bread before the first loaf-at-a-time sliced bread was sold 80 years ago today on July 7, 1928. How proud Roh must have been when that first loaf emerged. Customers, although ambivalent, tried the perfectly sliced Kleen Maid Sliced Bread from the Chillicothe Baking Company. No, they were not quick to adapt to the uniform slices perfect for making sandwiches but, the demand, popularity and convenience was enough to encourage Roh to have another machine built. Otto Frederick Rohwedder didn't become rich because of his invention. As a matter of fact, when all was said and done and the first sliced loaf was delivered, the Great Depression became evident. Otto Frederick Rohwedder sold the second bread slicer to a baker from St. Louis by the name of Gustav Papendick. Papendick improved the cutting action of Roh's bread slicer and devised a way to keep the slices together, he added changes which allowed for cardboard trays to hold the sliced bread. He applied for a patent on May 22, 1930 and was granted his patent #1970379 on August 14, 1934. I have included links to both Rohwedder's and Papendick's patents in the resources below. The popularity and convenience of sliced bread was propelled even further when consumers realized that the sliced bread fit perfectly in the Pop-Up toaster invented by Charles Strite in 1919. As for Roh, the stock market crash of 1929 gave him no choice but to sell his invention to the Bettendorf Company where he became executive of the Rohwedder Bakery Machine Division of Micro-Westco. The first slicer invented by Rohwedder was destroyed but the second machine is housed at the Smithsonian Institution. If you stop over at the Sliced Bread Photo Album, there are wonderful photos of the Rohwedder Bread Slicer manufactured at the Bettendorf Company in Bettendorf Iowa in 1933. Two other contributions offered to the success of Roh's sliced bread were the promoting done by Holsum Bread, and in 1930, Wonder Bread. Yet, it really wasn't until the industrialization of bread production in the 1950s that sliced bread really took a hold.

Crumbs and Recipes

Pictured is a promotional recipe book for Taystee Bread dated 1933. Five years after that wholesome day, Taystee offered the following in its Purity Bakeries booklet.
How To Care For Bread:
  • Good bread comes wrapped in a moisture proof and dust proof wrapper, which protects it from all foreign odors or flavors.
  • The wrapper should not be removed until the bread is wanted, then open one end of the wrapper, slide out the bread and return the unused portion of the loaf.
  • The bread box should be scalded and aired at least once a week, and should be kept in a dry place.
  • Do not allow broken portions of bread to accumulate in the box, as they are apt to mold and spoil the flavor of all the bread in the box.
  • Keep bread crumbs in a glass topped fruit jar in a dry place, but do not allow them to stand too long.
Sliced bread offers you the added convenience of bread that is already sliced and ready to serve. No waiting, no knives to bother with, no cut fingers, no uneven slices, no crumbs, no waste. Every slice is uniformly perfect.
How To Toast Bread:
  • Toast is more appetizing without the crust. Take out the slices you wish toasted and remove the crust before toasting. (this makes me laugh, the purpose of sliced bread was suppose to be no cutting. Now you have to cut off the crust before toasting?)
  • When toasting under a gas flame, light the oven at least five minutes before making the toast. Spread on the toaster and toast quickly, as long toasting dries out the bread. (this is 1933 remember)
  • For buttered toast have the butter creamed or softened so it will spread easily and quickly. Serve as soon as the toast is made.
The pictured recipes are from yet another bread recipe book titled 88 Mealtime Surprises made with Bond Bread I chose this one for the recipes because the recipes are in color and I am just going to scan them. This booklet is dated 1931. Beneath the Bureau of Food s Sanitation and Health seal on the back inside cover read the words. Sliced or Unsliced, There is No Bread Like Bond. I've chosen recipes included in the section Bread As A Baking Ingredient to share because, these were thrifty times and the recipes embrace the use of bread crumbs as a left-over. If you click the image to enlarge, the recipes you will find include, Orange Macaroons, Brownies, Ginger Cake, Apple Sauce Cake, Crumb Muffins and Spiced Muffins. All baked with bread crumbs as an ingredient!
Did you know sliced bread was banned during WWII? If you want to know more about the banning of sliced bread during WWII, visit Bread Toast Wonder at my other blog. How about this tease of crumbs? When was the expression "The best thing since sliced bread'' first coined? This link will reveal the answer.
One has to wonder, What was the best thing before sliced bread? A "hero" a grinder, a "sub?" Perhaps, a push sandwich. I know, a po' boy was the best thing before sliced bread, to many New Orleanians anyway. You see Clovis and Benny Martin had invented the sandwich a year before the sliced bread machine was commercialized. What about a "sandwich" of salami, cheese and pickled vegetables on a round sesame seeded loaf invented in 1910 by Salvatore Lupa in 1910. That would be a muffuletta. Although, the debatable Reuben sandwich consisted of two pieces of rye bread, corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing, it was probably served on pre-sliced sliced bread. As was the Hot Brown sandwich which was quite popular at The Brown Hotel in Kentucky in the 1930s. Some believe, Tinned chicken was the best thing before sliced bread. source
  • 1. What's a Breadbox?
  • 2. Otto Rohwedder @ foodreference.com
  • 3. Bread slicer Inventor Lived in Albion (excellent article)
  • 4. Otto Rohwedder Inventor of the Week @ MIT
  • 5. New Machine Delivers Fresh Bread Loaves Ready Sliced.
  • 6. The Cyber Toaster Museum
  • 7. Home of Sliced Bread
  • 8. Otto Rohwedder's patent #1,867,377
  • 8. Gustav Papendick patent
  • 9. Build Your Own Bread Slicer
  • 10. The History of the PBJ Sandwich