Today in History: 49 Days Without Sliced Bread
A national ban on sliced bread went into effect on January 18, 1943, 14 years after it hit store shelves, due to World War II conservation efforts.
The first machine that sliced bread was invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder from Iowa. The Chillicothe Baking Company in Missouri was the first bakery to use the machine, selling their revolutionary slices on July 7, 1928. The company advertised its new product as "the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped."
On December 29, 1942, Secretary of Agriculture Claude R. Wickard ordered a ban on sliced bread to take effect on January 18, 1943. The ban was to aid in conservation efforts needed for World War II.
According to The New York Times, the intent was to counteract the rising price of bread caused by a 10% increase in the price of flour. Officials also explained that "the ready-sliced loaf must have a heavier wrapping than an unsliced one if it is not to dry out."
Bakers and the public were disgruntled, to say the least. According to UselessInformation.org, one baker commented, "Not slicing the bread will save something." He continued, "It will eliminate one operation, cut the paper consumption in half, and reduce labor costs a little. But all these things together won't go far enough toward making up the increase in flour prices."
Some unintended consequences became apparent after this law went into effect. Homeowners now had to slice their bread at home, producing more waste than the efficient bread-cutting machines. Also, many homeowners had to purchase bread knives, causing the price to surge. Restaurants were also unhappy; they needed more staff to slice the large amount of bread ordered by customers and could not buy their machines due to war shortages.
After a measly 47 days, Wickward finally rescinded the ban, saying, "The order prohibiting the slicing of bread was aimed at affecting economies in the manufacture of bread and in the use of paper." He continued, "Our experience with the order, however, leads us to believe that the savings are not as much as we'd expected, and the War ProductionBoard tells us that sufficient wax paper to wrap sliced bread for four months is in the hands of paper processors and the baking industry."
An unofficial reason for the short lifespan of the ban may have more to do with consumer backlash. One example was written by a housewife and printed in the New York Times in late January 1943, saying, "I should like to let you know how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household. My husband and four children are all in a rush during and after breakfast. Without ready-sliced bread, I must do the slicing for toast - two pieces for each one - that's ten. For their lunches, I must cut by hand at least twenty slices for two sandwiches apiece. Afterward, I make my own toast. Twenty-two slices of bread to be cut in a hurry!"
As silly as it may sound, a ban on sliced bread should not be taken lightly, as proven by the commonly-used phrase "the greatest thing since sliced bread."