The US Tried to Ban Sliced Bread During WWII
The US Tried to Ban Sliced Bread During WWII

The US Tried to Ban Sliced Bread During WWII

Shannon Quinn - June 7, 2019

In the United States, there is a phrase, “This is the best thing since sliced bread!”. It has been around so long, it’s as if we are referring to the invention of the wheel, even though it’s only been around since 1928. People born in the modern era are so used to seeing sliced bread on the shelves, it’s hard to imagine a time when everyone had to bake and cut their loaves of bread themselves. But in 1943, both the US Government actually tried to ban sliced bread as part of the war effort.

The US Tried to Ban Sliced Bread During WWII
Illustration and photos showing how the bread slicing machine works. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Invention of sliced bread

Sliced bread is definitely one of those inventions that we take for granted in modern times. Believe it or not, this was not invented by a baker or chef. The idea came from a jeweler named Otto Frederick Rohwedder in St. Joseph, Missouri. Like all great inventors, Rohwedder came up with a solution to a problem. So he would listen to the women coming into his shop. He noticed the ladies were complaining about how tedious it was to slice bread every single day. Since he was a man, this was an issue that he had never taken notice to before. But it was a common problem for housewives to slice the “perfect” slice of bread so that it wasn’t too thick or thin.

Since he had a lot of technical knowledge from creating jewelry out of metal, Otto Frederick Rohwedder realized that he could invent a machine that would slice bread automatically without the hassle of using a knife. In order to make the best machine possible, he polled his future customers. He decided paid for ads in newspapers around the country asking women how thick they liked their sliced bread, and provided an address for them to send him letters. He received over 30,000 responses from women explaining their dilemma. Once he gather all the data, he realized exactly how thick the “perfect” slice of bread should be. He was able to create a machine that would automatically sliced bread, and he filed a patent for the device.

The US Tried to Ban Sliced Bread During WWII
Patent for bread slicing machines. Credit: Shutterstock

Rohwedder had his first prototype ready to go in the year 1912, but unfortunately, there was a fire that burned down his jewelry shop in 1917. This also destroyed his prototype along with all of his sketches and blueprints for his bread slicing machine. It took him 10 years to recover from the financial blow of losing his store, but he never forgot the brilliant invention that he had come up with. By 1928, he was able to re-create his invention along with a method of automatically putting a waxed paper bag around the sliced bread to keep it fresh. He was able to partner with a local business called the Chillicothe Baking Company. It worked so efficiently that they were able to produce huge quantities of bread.

The US Tried to Ban Sliced Bread During WWII

The Eat Less Bread Campaign

During World War I, there was a campaign to eat less bread, because it saved wheat for the troops. At the time, this made sense, and people agreed to stop baking on a daily basis. After this first war, US farmers became more diligent with storing wheat in large silos so that there was plenty to last, even in times of war. Once sliced bread came around, consumption of wheat was on the rise.

Before the invention of sliced bread, women would have to purchase a loaf either from their local bakery, or make the bread at home themselves. Believe it or not, people were not eating bread on a daily basis the way that they do today. It was simply too tedious for housewives to bother with this process every day with their busy schedules. But after the convenience of sliced bread came along, more and more people started incorporating slices of toast with their breakfast every morning, and they ate more sandwiches that were easy and convenient to pack for lunch. It became an essential part of the American diet.

The US Tried to Ban Sliced Bread During WWII
Propaganda posters encouraging people to eat less bread. Credit: BBC

During World War II, the Secretary of Agriculture, Claude R. Wickard, spearheaded yet another “Eat Less Bread Campaign”. Just like World War I, he wanted people to eat less food in general so that there was more wheat for the soldiers. Because of this, they decided that sliced bread was a problem. The idea was that if people eat less sliced bread from the grocery stores it would leave more for the soldiers that were fighting. They also thought that it may be cheaper for the national budget. The government encouraged people to go back to baking and slicing their own bread.

They also made it a law that local bakeries could not begin selling their bread until it was already 12 hours old. This way the bread would already be stale, and it wouldn’t have that magically buttery and fluffy fresh bread taste. The government believed that if it was not as delicious as usual, then people will be forced to bake their own bread at home or to give it up from their diets completely. But as anyone who ever tried to give up carbs knows, it’s almost impossible to give up bread once it becomes part of your daily routine.

When sliced bread was first banned, the New York Times reported that the reason behind Claude R. Wickard’s banned sliced bread was the wax paper itself. They said the American factory workers had a far better things to do than creating this wax paper from scratch. Today, those bags are made out of plastic. Of course they’re not as good for the environment but that’s another story. In reality, Wickard did not actually have a very logical reason for banning sliced bread. He was simply trying to save pennies in the national agricultural budget. But as he would soon learn, this policy would come back to bite him.

The US Tried to Ban Sliced Bread During WWII
The US Food Administration made rediculous claims, like that eating one less loaf of bread a week will help win the war. Credit: Shutterstock

Americans Fight To Get Sliced Bread Back.

Americans tried to make sense of the ban on sliced bread. If they were using the metal from sliced bread machines to create tanks or artillery, it would have been understandable. However, these bread making machines almost never broke down. Once a bakery had one of these machines. they really never needed to purchase another one ever again. So the metal had already been used, and would be useless to the US Army. This is why people were confused. They didn’t believe that this was actually helping the world effort at all, and they were right.

As we mentioned earlier, the United States already had a huge emergency reserve of wheat in their silos after the first world war, and farmers continued to grow more crops each year. There had not been a famine or any reason to believe why there wasn’t enough wheat to go around. They truly had enough to last throughout the war. It was flabbergasting to pretty much everyone why they should give up their daily doses of sliced bread.

Of course, something else that was important during World War II was keeping up the morale on the home front. These poor housewives who had sliced bread taken away from them, it was practically like taking away someone’s electricity. Baking bread takes over an hour of work, and they were back to square one with struggling to cut perfect-sized slices. Countless numbers of angry housewives begin writing letters to Claude R. Wickard.

The US Tried to Ban Sliced Bread During WWII
Vintage Wonderbread ad. Credit: Shutterstock

One such mother explained how difficult it was to bake a loaf of bread and slice it for her husband and children every day. She submitted it to the New York Times, and they published her letter: “I should like to let you see how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household. My husband and four children are all in a rush before, during and after breakfast. Without ready-sliced bread I must do the slicing for toast — two pieces for each one — that’s ten. For their lunches I must cut by hand at least twenty slices, for two sandwiches apiece. Afterward I make my own toast. Twenty-two slices of bread to be cut in a hurry. They look less appetizing than the baker’s neat, even pieces. Haven’t the bakers already their bread-slicing machines and for thousands of loaves?”

In 1943, the US government had heard enough complaints. The government announced that the ban was lifted due to the fact that it did not save as much money as they imagined that it might. Housewives everywhere celebrated as their beloved sliced bread returned to store shelves. People have continued to consume sliced bread on a daily basis, declaring that everything was the “best thing since sliced bread”. If the story teaches us anything, it’s that we should never take these small luxuries for granted in the modern world.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

The Invention of Sliced Bread. Pricenomics.

That Time When America Banned Sliced Bread. Kaushik. Amusing Planet.

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