The Greatest Thing, Period
Nobody wanted Otto Rohwedder's machine. The Davenport, Iowa, salesman had worked on a device for slicing loaves of bread for more than a decade, but bakers were dubious. They protested that the bread would go stale, that customers only wanted their loaves whole, or that it just wouldn't work.
Then, in 1928, Frank Bench, who owned a small bakery in Chillicothe, Mo., decided to give it a try. Richard Rohwedder, Otto's son, who was 13 years old at the time, fed the bread through the "very peculiar-looking machine." It quickly became popular. "The ladies liked and wanted it," he recalls, and sales at Bench's bakery increased by 2,000 percent in just a few weeks. The idea gathered more steam when a St. Louis baker named Gustav Papendick created a machine that not only sliced the bread but wrapped it, too, keeping the slices from drying out.
The beginning of the 20th century marked a turning point for home kitchens. More than two thirds of American homes had electricity by the end of the 1920s, and as hired help left for factories or other jobs, homemakers looked to electrical appliances like the toaster (invented at least a decade before sliced bread) to ease their kitchen workload.
A revolution. "Our food production was in enormous upheaval following the industrial revolution," says Laura Shapiro, author of Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. As more women went to work and consumers were increasingly getting their goods off assembly lines, food production, too, became a mechanized process. Women didn't have time to slave away over dinner--and new products meant they didn't have to.
Lately, however, there's been a movement back toward the old way: artisanal, unsliced bread. "We're after nice texture and a flavor of grain rather than yeast," says Mark Furstenberg, owner of Breadline, an innovative sandwich shop in Washington, D.C. "The way we try to make bread gives it a much wheatier flavor." Which could be the greatest thing since--well, you know.
This story appears in the August 15, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.