Otto Frederick Rohwedder (July 7, 1880 – November 8, 1960) was an American inventor and engineer who created the first automatic bread-slicing machine for commercial use. It was first used by the Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri in 1928. Rohwedder was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1880, the son of Claus and Elizabeth Rohwedder, of ethnic German descent. When a child, Rohwedder and his family moved to Davenport, where he lived until the age of 21. He attended Davenport public schools. Then he became an apprentice to a jeweler to learn a trade. Rohwedder also studied optometry, graduating in 1900 with a degree in optics from what is now the Northern Illinois College of Ophthalmology and Otology in Chicago. He became a jeweler.
Rohwedder first had a brief career as a jeweler, and became the owner of three jewelry stores in St. Joseph. His used his work with watches and jewelry to create inventions of new machines. Convinced he could develop a bread slicing machine, he sold his jewelry stores to fund the development effort and manufacture the machines. In 1917 a fire broke out at the factory where Rohwedder was manufacturing his machine. It destroyed his prototype and blueprints. With the need to get funding again, Rohwedder was delayed for several years in bringing the bread slicer to market.
In 1927 Rohwedder successfully designed a machine that not only sliced the bread but wrapped it. He applied for patents to protect his invention and sold the first machine to a friend and baker Frank Bench, who installed it at the Chillicothe Baking Company, in Chillicothe, Missouri in 1928. The first loaf of sliced bread was sold commercially on July 7, 1928. Sales of the machine to other bakeries increased and sliced bread became available across the country. Rohwedder had seven patents approved from 1927-1936 having to do with bread slicing and handling. His original bread slicing machine is in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
Gustav Papendick, a baker in St. Louis, Missouri, bought Rohwedder’s second machine and found he could improve on it. He developed a better way to have the machine wrap and keep bread fresh. He also applied for patents for his concepts. In 1930 Continental Baking Company introduced Wonder Bread as a sliced bread. It was followed by other major companies when they saw how the bread was received. By 1932 the availability of standardized slices had boosted sales of automatic, pop-up toasters, an invention of 1926 by Charles Strite. In 1933 American bakeries for the first time produced more sliced than unsliced bread loaves.
That same year Rohwedder sold his patent rights to the Micro-Westco Co. of Bettendorf, Iowa and joined the company. He became vice-president and sales manager of the Rohwedder Bakery Machine Division. In 1951 Rohwedder at age 71 retired from Micro-Westco Co. and moved with his wife Carrie to Albion, Michigan, where their daughter Margaret (Rohwedder) Steinhauer and his sister Elizabeth Pickerill lived. Rohwedder died in Concord, Michigan on November 8, 1960. He was buried at Riverside Cemetery in Albion.
Sliced bread is a loaf of bread that has been pre-sliced with a machine and packaged for convenience. It was first sold in 1928, advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped”. This led to the popular phrase, “the greatest thing since sliced bread“.