Home / Archaeology and History / Chillicothe, Mo. enjoys its slice of baking history
sliced bread Chillicothe

Chillicothe, Mo. enjoys its slice of baking history

Nearby Chillicothe, Mo., may be the greatest thing since, well, sliced bread. The city’s Otto Rohwedder gave the world an innovation by which all others are compared.

“Sliced bread is the standard of all innovation, past, present and future,” Ed Douglas, a businessman, local historian and county commissioner says.

The world’s first loaves of bread, sliced, cut and packaged right out of the oven by Rohwedder’s unique innovation, rolled out of Chillicothe Baking Co. in 1928. Sliced bread changed American consumer culture and household habits with shocking speed.

Rohwedder was born in Des Moines in 1880. His family made its way to Davenport at some point when he was a small child. His father, Claus, was born in Kreis Dithmarschen, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, in 1845. He arrived in Iowa in 1866 and worked as a stone mason contractor. He “designed the stone work on many of Davenport’s prominent business buildings of former years,” according to a 1922 obituary.

Rohwedder graduated from the Illinois College of Optometry in 1900 with a degree in optics. He ended up in the jewelry business, reportedly apprenticing in the trade as a teenager. He operated three jewelry shops in St. Joseph. The business struggled, by many accounts. Atsome point in his 30s, Rohwedder conceived the idea of devising a way to slice bread at a commercial level.

He returned to his hometown of Davenport in 1916 and used the funds from the sale of his jewelry business to pursue his dream. Rohwedder finally found someone willing to take a chance on his scheme to reinvent the staff of life.  His name was Frank Bench, and he ran the struggling Chillicothe Baking Co. He ordered one of Rohwedder’s slicing machines on July 1, 1928, and touted the news in the local newspaper on July 6.

“The idea of sliced bread may be startling to some people,” the story read. “The Chillicothe Baking Company has installed a new multi-bladed bread slicer, which performs a feat which heretofore had been considered by bakers as being impossible — namely the slicing of fresh loaves.”

The bakery claimed “the distinction of being the first bakers in the world to sell sliced bread to the public.”

By early 1929, he was selling slicing machines to bakeries and other businesses as far away as New York and Florida. The world continues to marvel at Rohwedder’s achievement. The phrase “the greatest thing since sliced bread” has become deeply ingrained in the language.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice

Leave a Reply