Rhodri Marsden's Interesting Objects: The sliced loaf

 

* Eighty-six years ago this weekend, an advertisement appeared in The Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune for Kleen Maid Sliced Bread. "The housewife can well experience the thrill of pleasure," it read, "with each slice the exact counterpart of its fellows." The next morning, Missouri's Chillicothe Baking Company put the first pre-sliced loaves on sale to the public.

* The company's slicing machine was invented by one Otto Rohwedder. He'd been preoccupied with bread-slicing for over a decade, but an ill-timed fire had destroyed his original prototype back in 1917. This new machine (5ft long, 3ft high, with knives cutting from the top and bottom, and wrapping the loaf in wax paper), caused a sensation. Bread sales increased by 2,000 per cent in a fortnight; after six months, it fell apart under the strain.

* Rohwedder remained undaunted, and his second machine – now in the Smithsonian Institution – kept going strong. "We are ... confident in the belief that the real possibilities of Sliced Bread have scarcely been scratched," he said, presciently. By 1930, however, he had ducked out of the bread-slicing business, selling his patent.

* When all this information was unearthed by a Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune news editor in 2001, it put Chillicothe firmly on the map. 'The Home Of Sliced Bread' was adopted as the city's official slogan in September 2007, and The Home Of Sliced Bread Committee now sells Home Of Sliced Bread T-shirts, mugs, magnets and candles at reasonable prices.

* Etymologist Barry Popik credits US comedian Red Skelton with the first use of the phrase, "The best thing since sliced bread" during a 1952 interview. The first "best thing since sliced bread" was, in Skelton's judgement, TV. The best thing prior to sliced bread remains unknown.

@rhodri

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