The History Corner: How Sliced Bread Became the Benchmark for Future Inventions

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Over the past century or so, innovation is gradually becoming a more dominant factor in our world. However, despite the increasing presence and influence innovations have on our everyday lives, none of them made it into our language – save one: sliced bread. We often hear statements like “it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread!” But have you ever stopped to ask yourself how this seemingly simple innovation managed to become the benchmark for future inventions? A closer look at the history of sliced bread may shed some light on this question.

 

Read on to find out how sliced bread came to life and opened the path for other future inventions:   

In the early years of the 20th century, Otto Frederick Rohwedder had a revolutionary idea: why not sell bread that is already sliced?! A Jeweler by profession, Rohwedder had little to do with the baking industry, but living in a small town in Iowa, right in the middle of the bread basket of America, he was no stranger to it.

In 1912, he decided to implement his vision and started to develop a machine that would automatically slice bread. As his project advanced, he soon realized that slicing bread created a new problem – the multiple surfaces of the sliced bread made it hard to keep it from going stale. It was 16 years later that he completed developing a bread slicer that not only sliced the bread, but also wrapped it in wax paper to keep it fresh.

 Source: dailymail.co.uk

Overcoming doubts  

Although many bakers had their doubts about this strange machine, the first Rohwedder Bread Slicer was sold after 16 years in 1928. And by July that same year, the first loaf of pre-sliced bread went on shelves in Chillicothe, Missouri. Soon after, in 1930, a company called Wonder Bread started marketing sliced bread nationwide.

Sliced bread saved time and effort for consumers and made it easier to reach for a second and third slice, increasing comfort and consumption. It also gave a boost to pop-up toasters, which had been languishing on the shelves since 1926, as well as to spreads such as peanut butter and jam.

Source: priceonomics.com

Slice a piece  

So, what is it about this invention that earned it its unique place? Was it the unveiling of such a dominant need that was latent for so many years? Was it the fact that even one of the oldest, most basic products in the world can could be reinvented? Was it the immense success of an idea that is so simple it seems almost obvious in hindsight? Or was it the fact that even such an iconic invention still took almost two decades to develop and implement?

Whatever the historic answer may be, there is much to learn from the story of sliced bread. It is a story of a man and an idea – a story that turns out to be far more complicated than you might expect. It paved the path for future inventions. It involved insight, challenge, creativity and perseverance – much like the story of any successful innovation.

So whatever you spread on your bread – peanut butter & jelly, cream cheese or humus – tell us what you think made this innovation resonate so loudly in our collective minds. We would love to hear what you think.

Lean how inventive solutions allowed

Robyn Taragin

Innovation Strategist at SIT Systematic Inventive Thinking

Robyn works with companies to design and deploy opportunities for innovation in a way that fits each one's unique needs. Having joined SIT in 2006, Robyn holds over 10 years of experience in strategic planning, facilitation, coaching, and knowledge management. Her clients range in size from Fortune 500 companies to SMEs and social organizations.

Amit Mayer

Senior Innovation Expert at SIT Systematic Inventive Thinking

Expert at improving innovation processes, Amit facilitates all over the world – from Sao Paulo to Singapore, from Minneapolis to New Delhi, from Tel Aviv to New York. He is also a founding partner and a didactic & creative director at Medidactic Ltd. – an Israeli-based e-learning business for healthcare professionals.

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