Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, February 15, 2004, pg. 16
Have you ever wondered who thought up the way to commercially slice and package loaves of bread we purchase in grocery stores? Instead of purchasing loaves whole and having to cut pieces with a knife yourself, bread comes to us today in even slices in plastic bags. If you go to most bakeries, chances are good that you’ll see a bread slicing machine sitting there someplace where you can have your loaf sliced fresh for you. That bread slicing machine has an Albion connection, which we’ll write about in this week’s Historical Notebook.
Otto Frederick Rohwedder (1880-1960) was a native of Davenport, Iowa, and grew up there. He married Carrie Johnson (1880-1955) in 1905, and the couple had two children. Rohwedder was a jeweler by profession, and owned three jewelry stores in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Beginning in 1912 Otto toyed with an idea for a bread slicing machine that would revolutionize the baking business. Convinced that such an invention would work, he returned to Davenport at the end of 1916. He spent several months working on a prototype which included the sliced bread being held together by metal pins. He sold his jewelry stores and used the funds to finance his new venture. Unfortunately, the prototype and the blueprints were tragically destroyed by a fire at the Monmouth, Illinois factory in November, 1917.
It took Rohwedder several years to recoup his losses and assemble investors and financing for another go-at-it. In the meantime, he worked as an investment and security agent during the 1920s.
Rohwedder resumed worked on designing a new and improved commercial bread slicer, which was completed in 1928. There were objections from skeptical bakers that pre-sliced bread would quickly dry out. Despite this, Rohwedder took his slicer to the Chillicothe (Missouri) Baking Company where he convinced a baker friend and owner of the company, M. Frank Bench, to use it. The new invention both sliced, and wrapped the bread in order to keep it fresh. History was made (or sliced) on July 7, 1928, when bread was sliced and wrapped commercially for the first time by a bread slicing machine. For the record, the brand name was Sliced Kleen Maid Bread. Customers marveled at the evenly sliced pieces, which were handy for making sandwiches and toast.
The new bread form caught on and a new era in baking history had arrived. Otto Rohwedder subsequently became known as the “father of sliced bread” in the history books. Bakeries across the country began ordering the slicers, including one in Battle Creek which was one of the first customers of his invention in 1928. Otto’s company was called the Mac-Roh Sales and Manufacturing Company there in Davenport. Sliced bread sales soared nationally however, with the promotion and distribution of Wonder Bread beginning in 1930 using its own revised equipment.
Following the stock market crash in 1929 and the arrival of the Great Depression, Rohwedder sold his invention to the Bettendorf (Iowa) Company, which was acquired by Micro-Westco., Inc. of Davenport. Rohwedder served as vice-president and sales manager of the firm for many years thereafter. The Davenport facility was known as the Rohwedder Bakery Machine Division. An early Rohwedder bread slicing machine is now part of the collection at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
In his spare time, Rohwedder was also a motivational speaker and was “in great demand” in the speaking circuit across the country during his time. No doubt his story about losing his original invention in the fire, followed by a period of waiting, and then finally success made a great personal testimony theme which motivated the thousands of persons he spoke to during his lifetime.
Mr. Rohwedder moved to Albion in 1951 along with his wife Carrie to retire and to be near their daughter, Margaret. Margaret was married to Carl W. Steinhauer, Jr. (1900-1971), long-time executive vice-president of sales at Union Steel Products. Union Steel of course, was a major manufacturer of bakery equipment here in Albion for many years. While here, the Rohwedder’s lived in an apartment at 818 N. Monroe St. Otto’s sister Elizabeth (Mrs. Clarence) Pickerill (1877-1970) also came to live in Albion in 1955, and lived at 111 W. Ash St. Otto died in Concord at the Murray Rest Home on November 8, 1960, where he had been living for two years. He and his wife, and sister are all buried in Block 11, Lot 1 in Riverside Cemetery.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of Otto Rohwedder--the inventor of the bread slicing machine, and one of the more famous persons buried in Riverside Cemetery.
Otto Frederick Rohwedder (1880-1960), “Father of Sliced Bread”
Next: MASONIC MURAT LODGE
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic