Today we take sliced bread for granted, and the phrase “the greatest thing since sliced bread” is usually delivered with rolled eyes and a tinge of irony. The innovation itself was revolutionary though.
The story of commercial-scale bread slicing highlights the dogged determination of a man named Otto F. Rohwedder, an optometrist turned jeweler turned inventor, who over the course of 10+ years toiled away until he had revolutionized how we purchase bread.
Humans have been eating bread for many thousands of years, but until the early 1900’s we either baked that bread ourselves or bought it from a baker as an entire loaf. For those who have never tried thinly slicing a loaf at home it is a messy, uneven process that often yields mediocre results.
Rohwedder recognized the need for a better solution. He overcame significant challenges in developing a working prototype, including a government ban on slicing, and ultimately succeeded in securing patent rights and in bringing his machine to market with great commercial success.
A detailed history is available here.