No Sliced Bread for You!

There was a time when the U.S. government banned sliced bread during World War II

 When we go to the store and purchase bread, it comes sliced. Yet that was not the case until the 1930’s. Bread was sold as whole loaves and you sliced them at home (or you made your own bread). Some bakers believed selling pre-sliced bread would hasten it becoming stale. While buying whole loaves meant you could slice to the thickness of your choice, it became a hassle when you had to get breakfast on the table and make sandwiches for lunch. The key to making commercially sliced bread feasible though was machinery to do this and that came about in 1928.

Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

Otto Rohwedder designed a mechanical powered multi-blade slicer that his friend Frank Bench used at his Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri. It was a local hit since the bread was sliced better than done by hand. Some thought it was a fad, but other bakeries began to do the same. Soon it spread national and by the 1930’s just about all commercial bread sold came pre-sliced. It also was softer than homemade as well. The Continental Baking Company capitalized on this with their Wonder bread. It became one of the most popular brands in the country. Now everyone could reach for their bread and easily make toast and sandwiches without having to slice it. A famous phrase came out of it: “The best thing since sliced bread.”

World War II though meant everything had to be rationed for the war effort and food was as well. Flour, dairy products, sugar, and other things could only be purchased with a ration book to prevent stores from selling too much (and they had rigorous enforcement as well). Fewer coffee beans meant coffee had to be extended with things like chicory (which my mother hated). Margarine instead of butter and lesser cuts of beef became popular. And then  the Office of Price Administration (which oversaw the food rationing and other things) decided on 18 Jan 1943 to ban sliced bread. The agency explained that the bread required heavy wrapping compared to unsliced, Another likely reason was that the price of flour (like other items during this period) was starting to go up and banning sliced bread would keep the flour price low.

Steel was also rationed during this time, so availability of bread cutting machines was limited as well. This did reduce the supply of sliced bread as well during the war. If the machine broke down and could not be repaired, bakers had to revert to using whole loaves or other alternatives to sliced bread. The attempt to ban sliced bread meant with resistance. Mayor LaGuardia of New York said that bread-slicing machine should continue to be used by bakeries and delicatessens. It did not stop there as complaints rolled into newspapers from housewives, bakeries, and others. The government doubled down and warned bakeries, stores, and delicatessens to cease using they bread cutting machines arguing it was unfair to those who were manually slice their bread.

You can guess this did not go over well. With limitations on everything already in place, people were furious that sliced bread was being banned requiring everyone to slice themselves or make their own bread. Since flour was being rationed, baking bread from scratch was not practical for most. Due to the unpopularity of this rule, it was rescinded on 8 March 1943. Claude B. Wickard who had issued the rule, said the savings the order meant to occur were not as expected. And that there was sufficient wax paper to wrap the sliced bread existed. So ended a moment when sliced bread, by government edict, was banned.  Today sliced bread is still widely available through types of bread have expanded considerably since those times. Wonder Bread is still available though it was hiatus for a while when its owner went bankrupt. It was bought by another company that brought it back and adorns store shelves again.

Who Invented Sliced Bread? (History.com)
The US Tried to Ban Sliced Bread During WWII (TheHistoryCollection.com)
Ban on Sliced Bread (TodayinHistory.com)