Otto Frederick Rohwedder was born July 7, 1880 in Des Moines, Iowa.
As a child Otto and his family moved to Davenport, Iowa.
Otto first worked as an apprentice to a jeweler before switching to optics and graduating in 1900 with a degree in optometry from what is now the Northern Illinois College of Ophthalmology and Otology in Chicago. However, Otto ended up becoming a jeweler.
He then married Carrie Johnson in 1905 and settled in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Otto opened a jewelry store in St. Joseph, eventually expanding to become the owner of three jewelry stores.
He expanded his work with watches and jewelry to create inventions of new machines.
Convinced he could develop a bread slicing machine, Otto sold his jewelry stores to fund the development effort and manufacture his machines.
In 1917 a fire broke out at the factory where Otto Rohwedder was manufacturing a bread slicing machine. It destroyed his prototype and blueprints.
Otto needed to raise funding again, thus bringing his bread slicer to market was delayed for several years.
In 1927, Otto successfully designed a new machine that not only sliced the bread but wrapped it.
He applied for patents to protect his invention and sold the first machine to 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, Otto’s 48th birthday.
Chillicothe Baking Company called their product, “Kleen Maid Sliced Bread,” and advertised it 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.” A writer for The Kansas City Star wrote that “the phrase is the ultimate depiction of innovative achievement and American know-how.”
Otto began selling his bread slicing machine to other bakeries and sliced bread soon became available across the country.
Gustav Papendick, a baker in St. Louis, Missouri, bought one of Otto Rohwedder’s machines and found he could improve on it. Gustav developed a better way to have the machine wrap and keep bread fresh. After failures trying rubber bands and metal pins, Gustav settled on placing the slices into a cardboard tray. The tray aligned the slices, allowing mechanized wrapping machines to function.
Gustav then applied for new patents from his own 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, a 1926 invention of 1926 by Charles Strite. Then in 1933 American bakeries for the first time produced more sliced than unsliced bread loaves.
That same year, Otto Rohwedder sold his patent rights to the Micro-Westco Company of Bettendorf, Iowa and joined the company.
He became vice-president and sales manager of the Rohwedder Bakery Machine Division.
In 1951, Otto Rohwedder, at the age of 71 retired from Micro-Westco and moved with his wife Carrie to Albion, Michigan, where their daughter Margaret and his sister Elizabeth lived.
Otto Rohwedder died in Concord, Michigan on November 8, 1960. He was buried at Riverside Cemetery in Albion.
Otto’s original bread slicing machine is in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
Now WE know em