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The greatest thing since...
July 8, 2010 5:04 AM   Subscribe

July 6 (or maybe July 7) marked the 130th anniversary of the birth of Otto Frederick Rohwedder, the inventor of sliced bread.

Sliced bread began in Chillicothe, Missouri, which still honors the innovation with posters and artwork.

Sliced bread co-evolved with the modern toaster, which has its own history.
posted by twoleftfeet (37 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why, it's the greatest thing since -- oh.
posted by Shepherd at 5:16 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


The invention of sliced bread was the greatest thing since the invention of umm.. ah... hmmmm
posted by HuronBob at 5:17 AM on July 8, 2010


More seriously, there are some things that I just have a hard time believing took so long.
posted by Shepherd at 5:17 AM on July 8, 2010


damn you shepherd
posted by HuronBob at 5:18 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ironically, last night I had unsliced bread and it was hot and warm and delicious, big clumps of heavenly carbs.
posted by new brand day at 5:26 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love this wonderfully dry line in Wikipedia's entry for "sliced bread":
Sliced bread appears to be something of an arbitrary selection as the benchmark against which later inventions should be judged.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:27 AM on July 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


"Just think of it! Every slice perfect and CORRECT, far better than you could cut it yourself," boasted M.F. "Frank" Bench, owner of the Chillicothe Baking Co., in an advertisement for his Kleen Maid Sliced Bread that ran in the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune on that date. "There was a time when you ground coffee. Now you buy it ground. Well, this is the same sort of sensible, logical improvement."

Ok. I'll play devil's advocate. This was the beginning of the long slide in America, the food detour where people fell in love with convenience and packaging. And things such as freshness and taste got thrown out the window.

I grew up on lunches of Wonderbread and packaged Oscar Mayer slices and Kraft cheese and then a Twinkie for dessert. These sliced-bread guys were the direct precursors of all that junk.
posted by vacapinta at 5:31 AM on July 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


In an amazing coincidence, July 6 marked the 10th anniversary of my joining Metafilter.
posted by MrMoonPie at 5:57 AM on July 8, 2010


Actually vacapinta, sliced bread always for excellent portion control, so I'll play angel to your devil and herald the invention as one of the foundations of dieting.
posted by new brand day at 5:58 AM on July 8, 2010


presliced bread always looks... 'perfect', while a whole loaf sliced by the baker always looks rough in comparison.

Do they use a different method of slicing in big factories, or is it just that bakeries use machinery that's designed for eas of use rather than quality of cut?
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 6:01 AM on July 8, 2010


This was the beginning of the long slide in America, the food detour where people fell in love with convenience and packaging.

Well, I may agree with industrial sliced bread, but I like getting my loaves sliced at the bakery -- I buy one loaf at a time and use it pretty quick, so staleness isn't much of an issue, and my own slices are crimes against sandwiches.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:11 AM on July 8, 2010


I hate sliced bread, which pretty much guarantees a whole loaf of wretched foamy pseudobread can go stale simultaneously, secure from the intrusion of mold spores who know better than to even touch the stuff. Of course, we're skipping that step altogether now that we can avoid the terrifying drudgery of actually making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the wonder of Uncrustables™, because we're just so busy these days.

Oddly, I grew up on homemade stuff because of my back-to-the-land parents, and during my youth, nothing looked better to me than the perfect lunch Sarah Morris would pull out of her red plaid lunchbox--peanut butter and jelly on squishy white bread where the jelly shows through like a bruise, a single-serving bag of nacho cheese corn chips, a Ho-Ho (in foil, which will tell you how old I am), and a can of store-brand cola, wrapped in foil because our parents all thought that would keep it cool, somehow.

I'd sit there, a sneer of jealously on my lips, and open my paper bag, reused so many times it was soft as cloth, and pull out my various items: (a) a homemade whole wheat pita, stuffed with tapenade, smoked turkey, and mung bean sprouts my mother grew in a jar under the sink, wrapped in wax paper, (b) carrot sticks made from sweet carrots in our own garden, with a little jar of a yogurt & dill dip (homemade yogurt and dill from the garden), (c) a thermos filled with herb tea sweetened with honey, (d) a cup of homemade yogurt with strawberries from the garden and a little brown sugar, and (e) either a half of a pomegranate (a fruit that, in the 70s, was so unfamiliar to most kids that I might as well have been eating a baby's head) or a set of pitted dates.

I'd sit there, will that insanely luxurious spread in front of me, and all I could do was wish that someone, that anyone, would trade with me so I could eat a fluffy white bread bologna and american cheese sandwich with mayonnaise instead of my very sophisticated and grown-up sandwich.

"Umm, Mrs. Wall, we're having an...issue with Joe's locker. It...well...it seems that there was a rather large swarm of fruit flies swarming around his locker, and when we opened it up, there were thirty-three bag lunches in there, in various stages of decomposition."

"Thirty-three?"

"Yes, though a few at the bottom had sort of rotted together, so it may have been more."

"Oh."

After that, my mother just sent me to school with lunch money every day, and I was perfectly happy to have a cafeteria grilled ham and cheese on margarine-soaked white bread for lunch, with tater tots and chocolate milk in a bag that you had to stab with a pointy straw like setting up a colostomy bag and a square neapolitan ice cream bar.

It would be years before I realized my mistake.

There's such a poverty in all this convenience. Are we really as busy as we think?
posted by sonascope at 6:12 AM on July 8, 2010 [10 favorites]


Ok. I'll play devil's advocate. This was the beginning of the long slide in America, the food detour where people fell in love with convenience and packaging. And things such as freshness and taste got thrown out the window.


Oh come on. The pre-industrialization, pre-convenience, pre-packaging equivalent to e.g. Wonderbread is not the round, crusty loaf lovingly parceled out by the grandmother in the margarine spread commercial. It's a bun sold without wrapping in dirty, smoky nineteenth-century streets with no quality control at all. Before the twentieth century there were laws being passed (and broken) regulating how much sawdust bread could legally contain. Dollar-for-dollar, the food we get now is probably twice as delicious, twice as fresh, and twice as healthy as the shit people would buy before.
posted by nasreddin at 6:21 AM on July 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


Do they use a different method of slicing in big factories, or is it just that bakeries use machinery that's designed for eas of use rather than quality of cut?

I have seen a commercial bread slicer in action! It's configured specifically for a certain loaf. The bakery slicer has to handle lots of different things.

The big production bakery that I visited makes "artisan" loafs that are not perfectly uniform (it's a supplier for Trader Joes' specialty breads in Massachusetts), so even those were not as perfect as the less-expensive square loaves. I presume that those are sliced perfectly because they have both a tailored slicing mechanism and are nearly identical.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:27 AM on July 8, 2010


"These sliced-bread guys were the direct precursors of all that junk."

I'm more prone to think it was whomever decided to grind that grain and bake it into a loaf instead of just eating it raw, while standing naked at the edge of a forest, with a bloody hunk of freshly killed deer in the other hand, and a nice glass of Cabernet.
posted by HuronBob at 6:28 AM on July 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


Happy belated anniversary!
posted by GlassHeart at 6:34 AM on July 8, 2010


You think Uncrustables are bad?
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:34 AM on July 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Before the twentieth century there were laws being passed (and broken) regulating how much sawdust bread could legally contain. Dollar-for-dollar, the food we get now is probably twice as delicious, twice as fresh, and twice as healthy as the shit people would buy before.
posted by nasreddin at 9:21 AM on July 8


Repeated for emphasis. The teeth of Egyptian mummies are worn down due to the high sand and grit content in the bread they ate. Nothing like a mouthful of bread and grit after a hard day building the pyramids for some asshole pharaoh.

The reason the delicious cakey sliced white bread is bad for you is because it was invented for people who worked on farms, in factories, and doing heavy labor. Lumberjacks don't count calories, cubies do.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:52 AM on July 8, 2010


The unsliced, fresh-baked bread at my grocery store is a dollar cheaper than the identical but day-old sliced bread. It costs a dollar to run an old loaf through that machine?

Thanks, Otto, but for a dollar I'll slice my own damn bread.
posted by klanawa at 7:21 AM on July 8, 2010


marked the 130th anniversary of the birth

Also known as a birthday.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:50 AM on July 8, 2010


vacapinta: not true. The fault lies with flour mills, not bread slicers.
posted by honest knave at 7:55 AM on July 8, 2010


My grocery store has a bread slicer. It's pretty awesome. I slice 4 or 5 loaves every time I go. Haven't bought one yet.
posted by electroboy at 8:57 AM on July 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


...sliced bread always for excellent portion control, so I'll play angel to your devil and herald the invention as one of the foundations of dieting.

Not that that's been working out so well either....
posted by IndigoJones at 10:11 AM on July 8, 2010


Can't we assume that people sliced bread with knives before Rohwedder invented the slicing machine? It's like saying that the guy who invented the chainsaw was responsible for logs.
posted by Dr. Send at 11:04 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have to admit I can't get excited about bread slicing, as I don't mind slicing my own. (Most people object to eating what I slice, though, as I can't seem to ever slice straight.)

But I do want to shake the hand of W.A. Van Berkel, who reportedly originated those giant meat slicers the deli section of the grocery uses. I love those. I think people who can carve meat, or machines that can do it, are simply amazing.

Also, I deeply admire the unnamed man from Haute Savoie, who apparently "invented" the modern version of the mandolin. That may be my favorite kitchen gizmo ever.
posted by bearwife at 11:20 AM on July 8, 2010


I don't buy bread anymore, but I have to admit that slicing my own loaves is something I just don't have the aptitude for. We'll usually wind up with a wedge-shaped stump after making a few sandwiches and end up either leaving it until it gets moldy or tearing it up into meatloaf or something.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:33 AM on July 8, 2010


My wife is a talented baker. We've stopped buying bread. And as a guy who grew up eating perfectly symmetrical squares of pre-sliced bread, I cannot express the thrill I got the first time I constructed a sandwich from a thick slice of bread and a thin slice of bread just because I could.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:13 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I bake my own and use a 20 buck electric knife. Perfect slices. Whats wrong with you people??
posted by shockingbluamp at 1:16 PM on July 8, 2010


Also, slice on a bias, people. It's not hard.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:34 PM on July 8, 2010


The teeth of Egyptian mummies are worn down due to the high sand and grit content in the bread they ate.

Not surprising, considering they lived in a desert and ground their grains with stones. Any grinding process is going to cause wear on the machinery and some of that is going to get into the product.
posted by tommasz at 2:12 PM on July 8, 2010


Obligatory YouTube link. Out of habit, I avoided looking at the comments, so probably NSFW.
posted by Xoebe at 4:53 PM on July 8, 2010


Argh, Youtube. I found myself watching bread slicing machines. Then some dude had made up a dubstep mix to a still image of a wooden manual bread slicer. Then another image, same dubstep mix, but a different image, this one of a little girl looking at a slice of bread longingly. Then dubstep Santa. Then Wobblegirl dubstep.

From sliced bread to fake dystonia. Love the internets. Best thing since canned beer.
posted by Xoebe at 5:16 PM on July 8, 2010


the OP says "sliced bread co-evolved with the toaster".

It has always been my opinion that the sandwich came from a toast infrastructure.

There are two basic ways to eat fresh bread:
1) By pulling a smallish hunk from a loaf or loaflette and eating it. This practice in almost the norm in France today.
2) Slicing the bread and eating a slice.

Toasting is a way of reviving not so fresh bread as to make it more palatable. To toast bread the optimal shape is in slices of a uniform thickness.

So once bread started to be made in loaf shapes more optimal for slicing and toasting, the notion of sliced bread became common and served as a foundation for sandwiches in the English speaking world.

The French have often been disdainful of sandwiches and when they do eat them they often are not made from square loaf pan bread which is optimal for toasting but instead from fresh baguettes that have been sliced lengthwise.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:25 PM on July 8, 2010


The pre-industrialization, pre-convenience, pre-packaging equivalent to e.g. Wonderbread is not the round, crusty loaf lovingly parceled out by the grandmother in the margarine spread commercial. It's a bun sold without wrapping in dirty, smoky nineteenth-century streets with no quality control at all.

"Dirty, smoky nineteenth-century streets" makes for a good rhetorical flourish, but it's completely superfluous: i.e. besides the point. You can get on a plane tomorrow and fly to all parts of the world that are not nearly as hygienic as suburban America, and bread is one of the foods that is the safest to eat. Here is an example. Contrary to your opinion that before Wonderbread people ate loaves of sawdust, there's a whole lot of evidence that people currently living in places where food regulation is spotty are often counting on bread as one of their staples.

Dollar-for-dollar, the food we get now is probably twice as delicious, twice as fresh, and twice as healthy as the shit people would buy before.

It sounds good as an assertion, but some evidence would help.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 3:19 AM on July 9, 2010


Contrary to your opinion that before Wonderbread people ate loaves of sawdust, there's a whole lot of evidence that people currently living in places where food regulation is spotty are often counting on bread as one of their staples.

That's not "contrary" to anything. You can rely on something as a staple and still have it be shitty, adulterated food--which is exactly what people did before the nineteenth century. And yes, there is ample evidence for food adulteration; see this random Google result (pdf) as an example.

It sounds good as an assertion, but some evidence would help.


Well, take a look at the chart in this post. That shows that today, we spend a third of what we used to spend on food in 1929. If we assume (for no particular reason, just as a reasonable guess, since I don't have access to those books at the moment) that somewhere between two and three times our current food expenditure rate was a pre-twentieth-century norm, we can conclude that "we," or some average person, can afford to spend between two and three times more on food to achieve dollar for dollar parity. If we further assume that this hypothetical average person had been buying $1.99 loaves of Wonderbread and similar kinds of products, and then multiply that by 2 1/2, we arrive at $5, which will buy you a decent loaf of artisanal or organic multigrain bread. That is almost certainly twice as good (although that's obviously subjective) as whatever crap with alum in it people were eating a hundred years before. (Most likely, the food-expenditure differential for most nineteenth-century people was actually higher than 2 or 3 times.)
posted by nasreddin at 5:26 PM on July 11, 2010


nasreddin: you're talking about America, but in most of the world crappy processed breads never really took off the same way they did in America. In India, Western Europe, and Latin America, a great deal of fresh bread is being made much the way it always was.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 9:50 AM on July 16, 2010


In India, Western Europe, and Latin America, a great deal of fresh bread is being made much the way it always was.

Someone should tell these guys.
posted by electroboy at 11:52 AM on July 16, 2010


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