Eighty-five years of the best thing since... This week marks the anniversary of sliced bread

 

As headlines go, “Sliced bread is made here” is perhaps not the most compelling in newspaper history. Still, those five words, splashed across the front page of Missouri’s Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune in 1928, marked the moment the world discovered the greatest thing since, well, ever.

This week marks the 85th anniversary of sliced bread. Its invention, overtaking the wheel as man’s defining achievement, spelt an end to hacked-up planks of loaf and minutes (or more!) of unnecessary morning labour. It seems few technological breakthroughs have gained quite the same level of cult status among consumers.

At the time, it was groundbreaking. “The idea of sliced bread may be startling for some people,” the Constitution-Tribune passionately reported. “Certainly it represents a definite departure from the usual manner of supplying the consumer with loaves… but one cannot help to be won over to a realisation that here indeed is a type of service which is sound, sensible and in every way a progressive refinement in bakers’ bread service.”

Indeed, the technology required was impressive. The challenge was to slice bread without making it go stale. Otto Frederick Rohwedder managed to do this, designing a machine that could slice and wrap bread in one fell swoop, holding the slices together tight enough to keep it fresh.

As the Constitution-Tribune explained: “So perfect is the slicing and so well is the loaf held together that there is appreciably no more moisture escaping from between the slices than escapes through the pores of the uncut crust.”

Still, perhaps the truly greatest thing about sliced bread (apart from sandwiches) is the phrase it created. The origin of the phrase is largely attributed to the marketing of America’s Wonder Bread – one of the first major brands to mass-market pre-sliced bread in the 1930s.

But a similar style boast was also made by the Chillicothe Bake House – the first to make commercial use of Rohwedder’s contraption and the subject of the original report, which announced in an advert at the time of its launch that sliced bread was the “greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped”.

While we can only wonder what other great things were invented since bread was wrapped, countless consumer goods been described as greater than the sliced stuff – the Segway, the fax machine, the iPod. Few, however, have managed to stay fresh for so long.

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