January 18, 1943 – Wartime Ban on Sale of Sliced Bread Goes into Effect in the U.S.

In 1927, Otto F. Rohwedder invented the first automatic bread-slicing machine for commercial baking. He applied for patents and sold his first machine to the Missouri based Chillicothe Baking Company in 1928. The first loaf of sliced bread was sold commercially on July 7, 1928.

An article in “The Mercury News” observed:

Frank Bench’s bakery increased its bread sales by 2,000 percent in two weeks,” Rohwedder’s son, who was 13 years old in 1928, told the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune in a 2003 interview. Before long, Rohwedder had a backlog of orders; his slicers helped put the wonder in Wonder Bread.”

Sales of the machine to other bakeries increased and sliced bread became available across the country. A baker in St. Louis, Missouri improved upon the machine, also developing a way to have the machine wrap the bread to keep it fresh.

In 1930 Continental Baking Company introduced Wonder Bread as a sliced bread. By 1932 the availability of standardized slices had boosted sales of automatic, pop-up toasters, an invention by Charles Strite in 1921.

In 1933 American bakeries for the first time produced more sliced than unsliced bread loaves. According to Mental Floss:

Bakeries began advertising the pre-cut loaves as ‘the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped,’ prompting Americans to coin that immortal phrase: ‘The greatest thing since sliced bread.’”

During World War II, however, Claude R. Wickard, then Secretary of Agriculture, thought it was a good idea to ban pre-sliced bread, officially issuing the order on this day in history. One goal of the ban was to reduce bakeries’ demand for metal replacement parts. Another was related to the country’s supply of wax paper. (Sliced bread, as Mental Floss explained, required twice as much paraffin wrapping as an unsliced loaf in order to prevent the slices from drying prematurely.) Perhaps most importantly, Wickard wanted to keep down the cost of wheat and therefore of flour.

Claude Wickard (1940), by the US Department of Agriculture, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Ben Kageyama, writing for “The Medium,” pointed out that there was no actual concern for wax paper supplies, and the U.S. also had plenty of wheat stockpiles. Supplies of steel would also not be significantly affected by bakers’ infrequent purchases of bread machines and parts.

In any event, there was a public outcry, and within just three months after the ban, the War Food Administration lifted it. On March 8, 1943, Americans got back their now-beloved sliced bread. As “The New York Times” observed: “Housewives’ Thumbs Safe Again.”

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