THE UNFOLDING JOURNEY is a new blog written in association with Legacy Genealogy.

This blog is a blend of disciplines that reveal the rich texture of culture and history that surrounded your ancestors' lives, as well as your own. We will take you beyond just the names, dates, and places to give you the "back story" for the reasons your ancestors thought what they thought and did what they did. We invite you to also visit us at the Legacy Genealogy facebook page at http://facebook.com/legacygenealogy

Sunday, January 27, 2013


In 1943, the United States government banned the sale of sliced bread. But we’ll get to that story in a minute.

When pre-sliced bread was first made available to the public on July 7, 1928 (84 years ago today), the event was called “the greatest forward step in the baking industry”; and ever since, we have been saying that this thing or that was “the greatest thing since sliced bread.” But the history of automated bread slicing goes back to 1912, a century ago.

Otto Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, invented the very first bread slicing machine. It sliced an entire loaf at one time. Sadly, his prototype and all his blue prints were destroyed in a fire. It took him another fifteen years to procure funding and build a second prototype machine. The idea of pre-sliced bread was not popular among bakers though. They felt that the resulting short shelf life would accelerate the staleness, which might turn away customers. After several attempts to get around the shelf life problem, Rohwedder modified his machine to wrap sliced bread in wax paper immediately after slicing.

The first ever pre-sliced loaf of bread was offered for sale at the Chillicothe Baking Company in Missouri on that Saturday morning of July 7th. It was labeled “Sliced Kleen Maid Bread,” and sales skyrocketed. Thanks to Holsum Bread and Wonder Bread, pre-sliced bread became a national sensation.

Fast forward to 1943. Claude R. Wickard was the Secretary of Agriculture and head of the War Foods Administration under FDR. He got the idea to ban pre-sliced bread across America, which he did on January 18th. Although the reasons were unclear, people assumed that it had to do with the conservation of resources during World War II. His rationale was indeed conservation. Wickard had selected wax paper, wheat, and steel as commodities to be held in reserve. All three were involved with sliced bread.

By FDA regulations, pre-sliced bread (which goes stale faster) was to be wrapped in thicker wax paper than loaves which were sold uncut. Oddly, there was no shortage of wax paper at the time and none was expected. Bakeries had wax paper supplies on hand to last several months, even if no more were ordered. It was hard for people to connect wax paper with the war effort, but OK.

Secondly, the government had earlier authorized a price increase of 10% on flour, and the price of flour-based foods rose accordingly. Pre-sliced bread was in such high demand that bread prices increased dramatically. Wickard believed that by banning pre-sliced bread, less would be sold. This would reduce the demand for wheat and increase the national stockpile. At the time, wheat was so abundant that it was difficult to find places to store it all. One billion bushels of wheat were in storage, enough to last two years, even if no more was harvested.

Bread-making machines were made of steel and if the demand for sliced bread dropped, Wickard reasoned that new bread making machines would not be needed. The steel used to construct them would thus be conserved. But by 1943, bread manufacturers had already invested in new machinery to satisfy the nation’s growing desire for sliced bread.

Reaction to the ban on sliced bread was strong and immediate. On January 24th, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia gave a radio address forcefully urging that bakeries that already owned their slicing machines should be allowed to continue to use them. Two days later a letter to the editor from an upset housewife appeared in the New York Times stating: “I should like to let you know how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household. My husband and four children are all in a rush during and after breakfast. Without ready-sliced bread, I must do the slicing for toast - two pieces for each one - that’s ten. For their lunches, I must cut by hand at least twenty slices, for two sandwiches each. Afterward, I make my own toast. Twenty-two slices of bread to be cut in a hurry!”

Shortly after, John Conaboy, the New York Area Supervisor of the Food Distribution Administration, replied to public complaints. He warned bakeries and other stores that continued to slice bread to stop immediately. He stated that, “to protect the cooperating bakeries against the unfair competition of those who continue to slice their own bread, we are prepared to take stern measures if necessary.” The government was taking a hard line on the sliced bread ban.

Six weeks later, the furor began to quiet down; and on March 8, 1943, the sliced bread ban was rescinded. Claude Wickard’s only comment was that, “Our experience with the order (ban) leads us to believe that the savings are not as much as we expected and the War Production Board tells us that sufficient wax paper to wrap sliced bread is on hand.”

Governments never seem to change - whether it’s 1943 or 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment