Friday, January 18, 2008

Bread Toast Wonder

Stop the Slicers!

Here's a crumb for you. On January 18, 1943, commercial bakers stopped selling sliced bread after Claude R. Wickard, Secretary of Agriculture, banned the sale of sliced bread in the United States until the end of WWII.
Within a year after America's entry into World War II, factories were producing armaments instead of civilian products like automobiles and electrical appliances. Shoe manufacturers made boots for the U.S. Armed Forces. Silk and nylon went into parachutes instead of women's stockings. Shortages of metals, rubber and sugar quickly appeared as Pacific supply routes fell under enemy control. (source)
Claude Raymond Wickard served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1940 to 1945. Claude R. Wickard was born on his family farm in Carroll County, Indiana. He graduated from Purdue University in 1915, with a bachelor's degree in agriculture, and was chosen as "Master Farmer of Indiana" in 1927 for his improvements in stock feeding and farming. During World War II, Claude Wickard headed the War Foods Administration, promoting increased farm production as a matter of patriotism. His slogan was "Food Will Win the War and Write the Peace". As a wartime Secretary, Wickard supervised the rationing of consumable and usable products vital to the war effort. He developed and administered programs which enabled the American farmer to produce enough food to feed the country, its armed forces and most of its allies. Well aware of his job's importance, he noted during a radio broadcast that "the way we manage our food supply will have a lot to do with how soon we win the war." By 1945 America's level of food production was high enough to make the difference between life and death for many people in the war-torn countries of Europe. (source)
First of the food orders can serve as an example. This order was designed to bring about economies in the distribution of bread and rolls. It provided for elimination of consignment selling to prevent waste, for simplification of labeling to conserve printing plates, inks, and papers, for the enrichment of all bread and rolls to bring the nutritive value to a fixed minimum standard, and for various other economies in the process of manufacture. source (Food Distribution Administration-PDF file)
Basically, the job assigned to the Food Distribution Administration (FDA) was to formulate and carry out programs that would result in the food produced on American farms being available at the place it was needed, at the right time, and in the proper form. Of the total war time food supply management job, the segment for which the FDA was responsible began when the food left the farm until the food ultimately reached the consumer. The Agricultural Part of the War Program included many aspects much too many to discuss here. We want to blog Sliced bread! However, it should be noted, by September of 1943 the Secretary of Agriculture, made an appearance before the House Committee on Agriculture, where he spoke about the serious farm labor shortage predicting 8-10 million men would be in the armed forces by the end of 1943. He projected, "Agriculture will lose one million persons from its work force between July 1, 1942 and July 1, 1943'. Consequently, the wartime Secretary, called for more "women, older people, and children to be "drafted" into farm labor. There were many belt-tightening measures on the homefront during World War II. Families were encouraged to produce their own food with Victory Gardens. Meat rationing gave birth to the "Trumanburger," a fried patty of mashed baked beans. And nutritionist Ansel Keys designed the portable, healthy if tasteless "K-rations" that were eaten by GIs around the world.

Why was sliced bread banned you might ask? I couldn't find a direct link as to the banning of sliced bread. Popular opinion seems to think it was because of the wheat used in the bread. I may have to disagree. I think it had to do more with the conservation of metal. Perhaps you will agree when you read about "The Slicer" below. I also found an article published in Science Magazine that may offer some insight. I am including the resource below as there is also an article titled, "The Study of War Metals" published in the same edition.

Less wheat, more meat; also more vegetables, eggs, dairy products, vegetable oils; steady on cotton and tobacco. This in a nutshell is the array of goals for American farmers in 1943, as summarized in the annual report of Claude R. Wickard, Secretary of Agriculture. It is quite different from the agricultural aims of the last war period, when all the accent was on wheat. Ever since 1918, wheat has been produced in excess in this country, and with the war-caused total eclipse of export markets it has been piling up. The national carry-over as of July, 1942, was 633,000,000 bushels, to which the year's huge crop of about 984,000,000 bushels was added. The total is enough to meet all our bread needs for two years, even if no wheat at all should be harvested in the meantime.

The Slicer

Sliced bread was "born" on July 7, 1928. The "father" of the bread slicer is Otto Frederick Rohwedder. Otto Frederick Rohwedder started working on his bread slicing machine in 1912. The first prototype machines were not well received by bakers, who told Rohwedder that his invention was useless, as sliced bread would too quickly go stale. Not to be under cut, Otto went back to the drawing board to come up with a better solution. After several failed attempts, a successful version was conceived in 1928. A machine that neatly sliced the loaves into uniform slices and wrapped the freshly-sliced loaf in waxed paper, which kept in the moisture, and therefore kept the bread fresh. He had successfully designed a machine that would slice and wrap the bread. According to an article published in The Chillicothe, Missouri Constitution-Tribune dated July 7, 1928 a story of the new machine's first use at M. F. Bench's Chillicothe Baking Company, was published.  According to the story, Mr. Bench assisted Rohwedder in the fine tuning of the new bread slicing machine. The massive metal unit, was approximately five feet long and three feet high. The baker's success led Rohwedder to display his bread-slicing-and-wrapping machine at trade fairs, and by 1930 the first large commercial machines were in use. The innovative bread product was launched under the name Wonderbread. The American public embraced sliced bread, toast consumption skyrocketed, and by 1933 over 80% of bread sold in the USA was pre-sliced and wrapped. The phrase The best thing since sliced bread was also coined at this time. source

The Wonder

In 1925, the Continental Baking Company bought the The Taggart Baking Company which was on the verge of launching a new 1.5 pound loaf of bread. Inspired by a Balloon Race at the Indianapolis Speedway, the vice-president of the company solved his dilemma as to what to name this new 1.5 pound loaf of bread. Impressed with the sky filled of balloons, he achieved a solution for the name he would give to his bread and Wonder Bread soon became a national brand.

The Continental Baking Company altered the course of bread forever in the 1930s when it introduced sliced Wonder Bread. Sales were slow at first as suspicious consumers were reluctant to accept a pre-sliced bread, but convenience overruled apprehension and soon everyone wanted sliced Wonder Bread on their dinner table.
During the ‘40s, Americans were forced to tighten their belts and the Continental Baking Company did its part to support the war effort. Metals become so precious that the blades for the bread-slicing machines are no longer available. Unsliced bread is again sold on grocery store shelves.

The Toaster

By 1930, sliced bread and the introduction of the automatic toaster had increased consumption of toast at the breakfast table. The history of the toaster as an appliance can be traced back to 1905. I have provided additional information in the resource section below. Early toasters were not truly automatic. They substituted electrical resistance heat for the heat from a fire or stove. The person desiring the toasted piece of toast was responsible for turning the toast and taking it out when it was done. Most of them had some sort of door or lid that had to be opened to turn the slice of bread over so that it could be toasted. The die-cut pamphlet pictured is for the "Hotpointer" Automatic Electric Toaster, Circa 1935, model #No.129T41 marketed by General Electric. The booklet doesn't really offer much information about the production of the toaster but, it does include a few recipes and also a pretty good look at how to operate it which I have provided in the scanned pictures which will enlarge if you click them. It appears that Hotpoint had its beginnings with a single product in 1905. Actually, there is a discrepancy as to whether Hotpoint was the first. As I said before, the history of the toaster as an appliance can be traced back to the same date, 1905. I will have to save that blog information for another day. In the mean time, here's another crumb of note. Hotpoint actually called their small appliances "servants" recognizing that such gadgets were quite convenient.

  • 1. We Stand United and other Radio Scripts
  • 2. Use It All; Wear It Out; Make It Do; or Go Without!
  • 3. Agricultural Supplies for War Claude R. Wickard (a brief article)
  • 4. Ration Books and Victory Gardens: Coping with Shortages
  • 5. Science Magazine
  • 6. Manual for Army Bakers (this reference was used during WWI)
  • 7. Wheat History
  • 8. History of the Toaster
  • 9. The Toaster Museum

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