The Greatest Thing Since...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I'm sure you've heard the saying, "It's the greatest thing since sliced bread." But do you know the story behind that time- and finger-saving invention? I didn't until recently:

Despite early praise [in trade journals], when it came time to sell the machine to bakeries, [Otto] Rohwedder was scoffed at.

For several months, nobody showed any interest in the device, which, at five feet wide by three feet high, was perceived to be too bulky and too complex for everyday bread production. On a last-resort whim, Rohwedder asked his friend Frank Bench, a baker on the brink of bankruptcy, if he'd give the slicer a shot. Though it was a substantial investment, Bench reluctantly agreed.

"When no one else in the world would give my father's machine a try," Rohwedder's son told the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune years later, "Frank Bench did."
And Bench was handsomely rewarded, starting with 2,000 percent increase in his bread sales within two weeks.

I consume little bread myself, so I was somewhat surprised to learn that Americans get an average about a third of their caloric intake from bread. Based on that figure, the labor savings represented by this invention is enormous, But don't take my word for it: A letter-to-the-editor that appeared in the New York Times regarding a wartime ban on sliced bread illustrates that quite well. Needless to say, the ban elicited such an outcry that it was quite short-lived.

-- CAV


Today: Fixed a typo. 

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