Otto Frederick Rohwedder, a jeweler who owned and operated three jewelry stores in St. Joseph, Missouri, sold his stores in 1916, convinced he had a brilliant idea.
He began working on his idea around 1912—to create a bread slicer that would automatically cut loaves of bread into slices for consumers. He worked on several prototypes, including one that held a sliced loaf together with metal pins. In 1917, a fire destroyed Rohwedder’s design blueprints at a Monmouth, Illinois, factory that had agreed to build his first slicing devices.
It would take several years for him to recoup his losses, but Rohwedder continued to make refinements to his design and found work as an investment and security agent. In the course of his research he realized that he would need to find a way to prevent a loaf of sliced bread from going stale. By 1927, he had devised a machine that would slice the bread and also wrap it.
He filed for a patent on his new slicing-and-wrapping device, and U.S. Patent No. 1,867,377 was issued to him on July 12, 1932. He sold his first machine to the Chillicothe Baking Company, in Chillicothe, Missouri, in 1928. On July 7 of that year, the company sold its first loaf of sliced bread, which Chillicothe Baking Co. dubbed Kleen Maid Sliced Bread.
In 1929, just as he was getting his Davenport-based Mac-Roh Sales and Manufacturing Company up and running, the Great Depression hit. Rohwedder was forced to sell rights to his invention. Micro-Westco Co. of Bettendorf, Iowa, purchased the machines and hired Rohwedder to serve as a vice president and sales manager within its newly formed Rohwedder Bakery Machine Division. Sliced bread became more and more popular, but sales skyrocketed nationally beginning in 1930 when Wonder Bread began marketing and promoting sliced bread using its own specially designed equipment.Rohwedder became known as the “father of sliced bread.”