In the pantheon of history there exists a singular crowning achievement, a kairotic moment if you will, or even if you won’t; a truly pivotal event in the unfolding saga that is this flowering enigma called mankind, so signaled by an invention exhibiting the pinnacle of American know-how, which has since proved to be the benchmark of and ultimate standard by which the greatness of all other things prior to the existence of the item in question is to be measured. Therefore, in order to justify that last amazingly protracted sentence, we’re going to spend some time learning about the bread slicing machine.
Sliced Kleen Maids and albino clown suits
[x_pullquote type=”right”] By 1930 Wonder Bread, the now-familiar baking company with the bags patterned after the suit of an albino clown, perfected the machine.[/x_pullquote]What the world was like before the invention of the bread slicing machine in 1928 we can only imagine, so we will: vast swaths of the country, flush with the promises of the burgeoning industrial revolution, ready to push forward in progress and improvement, yet shackled with the onerous task of having to slice their own bread every day. The psychological weight of the reminder that mankind was being ridiculed daily by uncut loaves of baked wheat may have been what pushed itinerant Iowa jeweler Otto Frederick Rohwedder to break the bread slicing barrier once and for all, or he may have just really wanted to make a little money. The bread slicing machine he invented was first used by the Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri in mid-1928 (Official Motto: “Wait; it’s going to be called ‘The Depression’? Well, okay.”) which was marketed their product as “Wrapped Sliced Kleen Maid Bread”, a name which for me conjures up a picture not so much of fresh, neatly cut bread but a torture movie plot featuring a domestic servant convention held in the ruins of a haunted bakery. By 1930 Wonder Bread, the now-familiar baking company with the bags patterned after the suit of an albino clown, perfected the machine and began to promote it as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” In the annals of baking history, if bakers keep annals, the slicing machine was a boon, assuming bakers also have boons, as they were now able to tout this new feature as the latest time saver in food, at least until someone invented that cheese you can spray directly into your mouth.
The greatest thing since…
Strangely, even more famous than this machine’s ability to mechanically segment a common baked good has been the phrase “The best thing since sliced bread.” After all, no one goes around saying “the best thing since those plastic nubbins on the end of your shoelaces that keep them from fraying“, or “the best thing since the spring-loaded pooper-scooper“, so why is the bread slicer held in such high esteem? One theory is that tired ad executives from 1968 who were working on a bakery account built a time machine in order to go back in history, plant the slogan, then return to their own time, where the phrase would now have become so popular they could claim it and knock off work for a three-cocktail lunch, but since this theory is one I just made up now it has not seen a lot of acceptance. Regardless, the phrase began to grow in popularity around the 50’s, and soon it became a catch phrase amongst mid-century Americans, who now had many things to call “great things”, such as the motorized surfboard or the cigarette umbrella. Cagey philosophers decided to get in on the action and began to posit complex metaphysical theories, such as “Is the bread sliced, or is it, through entropy, merely attempting to return to its prior temporal state of atomic disunity?”, upon which they were given a $200,000 grant to study wheat migration in Kansas. Other countries have since come up with similar phrases, with varying degrees of success. For example:
- Germany: “The loaf! All hope of its prior mewling existence has been severed… and it is good.”
- France: “There is nothing better than for the bread to be sliced, for it then means that the wine is not far behind.”
- Mexico: “Give us your bread or we will slice you.”
- China: “The People have determined things have always been perfectly good whether the bread has been sliced or not.”
- Canada: [sound of someone hacking away at frozen bread] “I’m so hungry!”
- North Korea: “Slicing the bread was such a great idea! I’m glad we thought of it first!”
- Russia: “Bread? What bread?”
As for Otto, the original inventor, he commented in 1930 that “We are continuing our experimental and developmental work confident in the belief that the real possibilities of Sliced Bread have scarcely been scratched,” which leads me to believe that somewhere, maybe in a secret baking installation a mile underground somewhere in Nebraska, top-secret bread-slicing experiments involving nuclear fusion and mutant wheat are being conducted, in hopes of finally finding the answer to who actually eats those pieces on the ends of the loaf. So, hail, bread slicing machine, for your tireless machinations over the years have kept our wrists happy, our arms fit and ready to do our daily work, as we find our daily bread cut and waiting for us to burn in our toasters because we forgot about it because the coffee pot started to leak again.