By Haddon Libby
We have all heard the phrase, “the greatest thing since sliced bread.” Have you ever wondered when sliced bread was invented?
Before you learn of its origins, “Gee Whiz” is a euphemism meant as a way to avoid using the Lord’s name as a swear. This ‘minced oath’ actually means ‘Jesus Christ’. Back in Shakespeare’s day, they might have used “Gadzooks” instead, which meant “God’s hooks” in reference to the nails on the cross.
Getting back to sliced bread, you may be surprised to learn that the first bread slicing machine was invented in Iowa by Otto Rohwedder in 1912. As his prototype was destroyed in a fire, it would take another sixteen years before society would get to taste pre-sliced bread when Rohwedder’s second machine went into commercial use at a bakery in St. Louis. Upstart bakery and pseudo-food, Wonder Bread, began marketing sliced bread across the United States in 1930.
With access to thinner, consistent slices, people ate more bread which led to an explosion in spreads like jam.
This would be the end of the sliced bread story if not for a short-lived ban on the product by the U.S. Government in 1943 during World War II. U.S. Food Administrator Claude Wickard put a ban on sliced bread into effect on January 18, 1943 citing concerns over the thickness of the wax paper wrapper needed to keep sliced bread from drying out. As such, he banned the product from American stores. At the same time, the Office of Price Administration authorized a 10% increase in the price of flour.
Six days after Wickard’s order and in response to outrage amongst his citizenry, New York City Mayor LaGuardia suggested that local bakeries continue using their bread-slicing machines. The Food Distribution Administration would have none of LaGuardia’s insolence and warned bakeries that the FDA would take “stern measures if necessary” if rogue bakeries continued slicing bread.
The whole issue came to an end six weeks later on March 8th, 1943 when Wickard rescinded the sliced bread ban due to public outcry by stating that the “War Production Board tells us that sufficient wax paper to wrap sliced bread for four months is in the hands of the baking industry.”
With that, the sliced bread crisis was over.
Another flour-based food, the bagel, finds its origins in Krakow circa 1610. The bajgiel as it was called then became a staple in Polish diets over the next one hundred years. During the 19th century, Polish immigrants would arrive in New York City and bring this food staple with them. Back then, virtually all bagels in the New York area were made by hand at bakeries controlled by the bagel bakers union, Local 338. Daniel Thompson disrupted the status quo when invented the bagel machine in 1958.
The first kosher bagels made it to Japan in 1989. To satisfy Japanese tastes, bakers created green tea, chocolate and banana-nut flavored bagels.
The doughnut as we know today is said to have been created by 16 year-old American, Hanson Gregory while aboard a lime-trading ship in 1847. Gregory punched a hole in the dough prior to frying it as the center would seldom cook thoroughly. Gregory then added flavors like nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon rind while filling the harder to cook areas of the doughnut with hazelnuts or walnuts.
Whether it is toast, a bagel or a doughnut, many of us feel a steaming cup of coffee is critical to the morning routine.
Did you know that the first people to drink coffee were 15th century Somalis who called it qahwa. About two hundred years later, Pope Clement VIII deemed the drink “Christian” despite its Muslim ancestry. The first coffee house opened in 1645 in Rome. At present, Starbucks alone has 24,000 stores in seventy countries.
Haddon Libby is an Investment Advisor and Managing Director for Winslow Drake Investment Management and can be reached at 760.449.6349 or HLibby@WinslowDrake.com.