Know It All: When was Sliced Bread Invented?

You frequently cite sliced bread as a historic breakthrough but do you have any idea when this revolution exploded onto the scene?

Everybody has that moment when they realize they don’t know about something that they should probably know about. Whether it’s history, language, science, or cultural phenomena, you’ve felt the stinging personal embarrassment of a moment wherein you realize there’s some common knowledge that isn’t so common. Don’t feel bad; nobody knows everything. Nobody, that is, except me and my sidekick, The Internet!

Somewhere in the world, a confused soul begs the question…

When was sliced bread invented?

The introduction of sliced bread into the world food marketplace continues to be regarded as a great achievement in human history. Personally, I’ve never understood the “sliced bread was a brilliant idea” thought process because… well, I mean, people were definitely slicing bread on their own terms before sliced bread was available, right? So why was a bread manufacturer finally devising what amounted to “a whole bunch of cutlery on an assembly line” hailed as such a breakthrough? Who wouldn’t think of pre-slicing the bread? *sigh* I digress.

Regardless of my personal feelings on this matter, most everyone continues to use “since sliced bread” as a temporal and cultural reference point. However, do any of these people actually know when this momentous event even took place? My experience has taught me that the answer is “no”; nobody seems to know when sliced bread was invented. Let’s change that.

In 1912, after eons of non-sliced whole grain terror, Otto Rohwedder of Iowa devised a machine with no purpose other than to slice bread. Unfortunately, soon after the prototype’s creation, the contraption – which, in its first iteration, could only handle one loaf at a time – perished in a fire. Despite this setback, Otto realized his dream and the dream of sandwich enthusiasts everywhere of a fully operational, multi-loaf bread-slicing apparatus in 1928 (don’t laugh, stuff took a long time, back then).

The first commercial application of Otto’s eventual handiwork took place in July of 1928, when the Chillicothe Baking Company of Missouri unveiled “Kleen Maid Sliced Bread.” This initial foray into the market was an expected success.

Otto’s suddenly popular and effective invention marked the beginning of an innovative period (additional slicing machines were built and sold to smaller companies following the Chillicothe effort) that culminated in 1930 when a newly national food brand called Wonder Bread marketed sliced bread across America; the Wonder ad campaigns are credited with the proliferation of the expression “the greatest thing since sliced bread” so… blame them.

Now you know.

Justin Brown is a writer and artist living in Virginia. He channels most of his mind's molten river of creativity into his blog Esteban Was Eaten!. For even more information about him, check out his website.