On July 7, 1928, a baker named Frank Bench in Chillicothe, MO, who was so broke he had nothing left to lose took a leap of faith on a crazy idea – sliced bread. The rest, they say… is history.
While sliced bread is so commonplace today that we don’t really consider it “inventive”, that was not always the case. Otto Rohwedder, of nearby Saint Joseph, MO had been working on the idea since 1912, nearly 16 years before his bread slicing invention ever saw commercial use. Naysayers scoffed at the idea, claiming people were not lazy and didn’t mind slicing their own bread. Aside from the outright rejection along the way, Rohwedder also experience numerous setbacks including sickness and a warehouse fire that destroyed his original prototype. Rohwedder, kept pressing on with faith that his invention would prove worthwhile.
Finally, in 1928 his machine was ready. Rohwedder and Bench teamed up and began producing Kleen Maid Sliced bread. Bench took out a full-page ad in the local paper announcing “The greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped,” and acknowledging that “the idea of sliced bread may be startling to some people.”
The Constitution-Tribune printed a news story touting the benefits of sliced bread that helped convince the public of the invention:
“The housewife can well experience a thrill of pleasure when she first sees a loaf of this bread with each slice the exact counterpart of its fellows. So neat and precise are the slices, and so definitely better than anyone could possibly slice by hand with a bread knife that one realizes instantly that here is a refinement that will receive a hearty and permanent welcome.”
The article went on to explain the process of opening the package at one end, taking out as many slices as one needed, and resealing with a pin – to prevent spoilage.
The cynical public was sold! People lined up around the block, Bench’s sales shot up 2,000 percent in the first three months, and his floundering bakery was saved. Rohwedder’s machine was embraced as a success and orders came rolling in.
Today the phrase “That’s the best thing since sliced bread” embodies the significance of this often overlooked innovation that was once just another crazy idea.