Iowa native helped bring us sliced bread

Iowa native helped bring us sliced bread
Iowa may have the first presidential caucus, but it is also the birthplace of the "father of sliced bread."

Is there a connection there?

The expression – "the greatest thing since sliced bread" – is now used to depict something that's pretty good, and I guess you could say the Iowa caucuses are. However, this year marks the 80th anniversary of the first loaf of sliced and wrapped bread commercially in Chillicothe, MO. And that takes precedence; politics be damned!


The boy born in Davenport, IA, was Otto Frederick Rohwedder, who became a jeweler by profession, but he had other ideas! Ironically he thought a bread-slicing machine would revolutionize the baking industry.

Back in Davenport, he tinkered with his idea until he thought it was feasible. Then he sold three jewelry stores he owned and used the funds to finance his new venture.

He had completed a model of his invention but unfortunately it was destroyed in a factory fire, along with his drawings of it. He then worked several years as an investment officer until he could return to his bread-slicing machine.

By 1928 Rohwedder had what he considered a working prototype – but skeptical bakers thought that pre-sliced bread would dry out too quickly.

So he took his massive machine to a Chillicothe, MO, baker who was almost broke and he (the Missouri baker) decided to give it a try.

It worked!

The baker – Frank Bench – saw his bread sales go sky high, and Chillicothe became the bread-slicing capital of the world Householders rushed to buy the pre-sliced bread – which didn't dry out as the nay-sayers said it would. It made good sandwiches, too.

Toasters became a must-have item, and wives put away their knives and cutting boards. A new day was borne and Wonder Bread was to become a reality.

Rohwedder went back to Davenport where he formed the Mac-Roh Sales & Manufacturing Company to fill the orders for the slicing machine which came from bakers everywhere. Later Micro-Westco of Davenport took over, with Rohwedder as sales manager of his own bread-slicing division.

Following the stock market crash of 1929 Rohwedder sold his invention but – as a motivational speaker – he never quit promoting it.

We had lost a good jeweler and gained the world's first automatic bread slicer.

The moral of the story is that you should never be sure of your first calling. You might have a slicer in your future!

(In 1943 there was a ban on Rohwedder's invention and others which followed because of the war-time need for the metals going into replacement parts. Rohwedder died in 1960.)

© 2008 Robert F. Karolevitz

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