The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

By Darrell Griffin

In the annals of culinary history, few innovations have had the everyday impact of sliced bread. This staple of modern kitchens owes its existence to the ingenuity and perseverance of Otto Frederick Rohwedder, an American inventor whose quest for convenience transformed the way we consume one of humanity’s oldest foods.

Early Life and Inspiration

Born on July 7, 1880, in Davenport, Iowa, Otto Rohwedder grew up in a time when bread was baked at home or bought in whole loaves from local bakeries. Cutting uniform slices from these loaves was a tedious and often imprecise task. Rohwedder, a jeweler by trade, saw an opportunity to streamline this process. His fascination with machinery and his background in precision tools sparked an idea that would eventually lead to one of the greatest food innovations of the 20th century.

The First Steps Towards Innovation

Rohwedder’s journey began in earnest in 1912 when he sold his jewelry stores to finance the development of a bread-slicing machine. His first prototype, completed in 1917, faced immediate challenges. A fire destroyed his workshop, including his blueprints and machines. Undeterred, Rohwedder began anew, refining his design and solving the technical problems that had plagued his initial attempts.

The major hurdle was not just slicing the bread but keeping it fresh. Rohwedder realized that for his invention to be successful, the sliced bread had to remain as fresh as unsliced loaves. He developed a machine that not only sliced the bread but also wrapped it in wax paper to preserve its freshness.

The Breakthrough

After years of experimentation and setbacks, Rohwedder completed his first successful bread-slicing machine in 1928. He approached the Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri, with his invention. On July 7, 1928, the company used Rohwedder’s machine to produce the first commercially available pre-sliced bread. The product was an immediate hit. The convenience of uniformly sliced bread was appreciated by consumers and quickly became a sensation.

The marketing slogan “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped” was born, later morphing into the famous phrase “the best thing since sliced bread.” The success in Chillicothe led to widespread adoption of bread-slicing machines across the country.

Impact and Legacy

Otto Rohwedder’s invention had a profound impact on the food industry. It revolutionized the way bread was consumed, making it easier for people to prepare sandwiches and toast. This convenience, coupled with the marketing strategies of bakeries, significantly boosted bread sales.

Sliced bread became a symbol of modernity and innovation. Its popularity soared during the 1930s, and by the time World War II ended, pre-sliced bread was a standard household item in America. The invention also spurred the development of other convenience foods, reflecting a shift in consumer preferences towards ready-to-eat and easy-to-prepare products.

Rohwedder’s Later Years

Otto Rohwedder continued to innovate and improve his bread-slicing machines until his death in 1960. Though he did not become as wealthy as some of his contemporaries, his contribution to the food industry remains invaluable. Today, his legacy lives on every time we reach for a slice of bread.


The story of Otto Rohwedder is a testament to the power of perseverance and innovation. His invention of the bread-slicing machine transformed a basic daily task and set a new standard for convenience in food preparation. Sliced bread, a simple yet revolutionary product, remains a lasting tribute to Rohwedder’s ingenuity and vision. His legacy reminds us that even the most commonplace items in our lives can have a profound history of invention and progress behind them.