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The Persistent Inventor of Sliced Bread

For nearly 3,000 years, we've eaten bread, but it took the creative efforts of one man to revolutionize the way we eat it. In the early 1900's a young man named Otto Rohwedder overheard a familiar complaint among housewives: slicing bread was burdensome, time-consuming, and sometimes even perilous. What if, pondered Rohwedder, there was a machine for bakers to pre-slice bread?

Otto was so moved to create and to help that he sold his jewelry business and embarked on a long, painful journey to bring his invention to life. In 1916, he built his first prototype of a bread slicing machine in an abandoned warehouse outside of town. After an initial failure, Rohwedder retired to his warehouse and feverishly sketched hundreds of blueprints. Then in 1917, a fire broke out and all of his blueprints and years of hard work were burned to ash.

By 1927, he had built a new and improved bread slicing machine. Unfortunately, nobody showed any interest in the five-foot by three-foot monstrosity. Finally, after a friend stepped in and invested in the project, on July 7, 1928, the first loaf of commercially sliced bread was sold. A newspaper ad claimed that the sliced bread was "the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped"—a phrase which was eventually hacked into the modern-day saying, "the greatest thing since sliced bread." Sales of the sliced bread took off. In late 1930, a New York-based company used Rohwedder's machines to build an entire business around sliced bread. Their product was called Wonder Bread.

Today, deeming something to be "the greatest thing since sliced bread" is a testament to its ingenuity, and to the decades Otto Rohwedder spent toiling in his workshop to bring flourishing to the world—one slice at a time.

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