Bakery Bulletin by Philippa Kelly: The man behind sliced bread

Sliced bread courtesy of Max Pixel SUS-170525-110610001
Sliced bread courtesy of Max Pixel SUS-170525-110610001

Otto Frederick Rohwedder was one of life’s winners.

Yes, he’s dead. Of course he’s dead - no one has names like Otto Frederick Rohwedder anymore.

But what, I hear you ponder, asides from a glorious name, made our man Otto a superstar? Read on, dear reader, read on, for where would the fun be if I told you straight away?

Let’s face it - you’re not that bothered, but you will read on, because if you don’t, you and everyone you love will burn in Dante’s eternal inferno of torment. (Obviously that won’t happen.)

I knew you’d read on. You’re predictable. Otto was of German descent - thank you, Captain Obvious - but was born in America in 1880.

He lived in Iowa with his mummy and daddy. He completed an apprenticeship in jewellery which, being American, he misspelled. He also studied optometry and even obtained a degree in it. In the battle between jewels and eyeballs, jewels won and Otto became a jeweller, and no, he shouldn’t have gone to Specsavers.

The inner-workings of watches fascinated Otto, and his knowledge of the cogs and wheels and nuts and squiggly bits (technical term, that one) meant that he decided there was more to life than retail sales. Otto had by now established three jewellery stores which he sold in order to fund his dream of making machines.

In 1917, Otto was tinkering with his prototype in his factory when a fire broke out. The prototype and blueprints were burnt to smithereens and Otto was forced to start again.

Like a phoenix, Otto, the bloody-minded inventor, rose from the ashes of defeat and spent the next decade trying again.

In 1927, Otto’s perseverance paid off and his machine was complete. Otto had invented the world’s first bread-slicing machine. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Otto’s machine also wrapped the bread.

In 1928, Otto sold his first machine to Frank Bench of Chillicothe Baking Company in Missouri.

He sold his second machine to - contender for Best Name Ever coming up - Gustav Papendick, also in Missouri. Papendick was a clever Dick - he improved Otto’s wrapping mechanisms and patented his ammendments.

One bread-wrapping patent didn’t mean much to Otto - he obtained seven patents for his bread-slicing machines, all of which he sold in 1930. His original machine is in a museum in Washington DC and it remains one of America’s greatest contributions to the world of commercial baking.

In fact, it’s the best thing since...