Jonathan Salem Baskin

Sliced Bread

Today, there was nothing better than sliced bread.

Bread is a really old food. The Sumerians were eating a barley flat cake in the 12th century BCE, and almost every ancient culture had its own versions of bread for food or religious rituals. Since you could throw lots of things into it, bread was the staple for most regular meals, too. It also became a fixture in how tables were set in medieval European households; a trencher was a tray of stale bread that was used as a plate to sop up juices, and then eaten afterwards or given to the poor.  Peasants tended to eat coarse, brown breads, made mostly at home, while it was considered ritzy to eat white, refined, smoother bread. Either way, once loaves were baked, they were either torn or sliced when portions were required for consumption.

All this changed in Chillicothe, Missouri, when on this day in 1928 the first loaf of pre-sliced bread was sold. Kleen Maid Sliced Bread was marketed as “the great forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” The slicing machine had been invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder (of Iowa) who’d been tinkering with loaf-at-a-time slicing devices since 1912. Sliced bread was a huge, immediate success, and it didn’t escape the watchful eye of such brands as Holsum and Wonder in the U.S., both of which started using the machines before the decade was out. Both brands also marketed white bread, which they “improved” with the concurrent addition of nutrients and baking and packaging technologies that let them put less bread in their bread. When combined with the ease of eating pre-sliced loaves, these brands offered a white bread luxury to a nation of consumers who’d only known coarse bread commensurate with their social class.

Sliced bread really was the greatest thing.

Here’s the link to Today in the Histories of Social Media, and this is the latest edition of Histories of Social Media