When you make or toast or sandwiches you most likely use pre-sliced bread. It’s quick, it’s convenient and efficient. There is also less mess and fewer utensils to wash up. So it may surprise you to learn that pre-sliced bread was once banned in the United States. Before you get upset about why U.S. officials would take such drastic action understand that there was a good reason for the ban.
Pre-sliced bread was first sold in 1928. It was hailed as a great step forward in the baking industry and was advertised as such. According to Wikipedia by 1933, around 80% of bread sold in the U.S. was pre-sliced, leading to the popular idiom "greatest thing since sliced bread".
The inventor of the bread slicing machine was Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, United States. His first prototype in 1912 was destroyed in a fire. It wasn’t until 1928 that a fully working machine was available.
Gustav Papendick, a baker from St. Louis was one of the first people to use the bread slicing machine. Unfortunately it could only cut one slice at a time. He set about improving the design so that it could cut more slices and wrap them before they fell apart.
During 1943, U.S. officials imposed a short-lived ban on sliced bread as a wartime conservation measure. The ban was ordered by Claude R. Wickard who held the position of Food Administrator, and took effect on January 18, 1943. According to The New York Times, officials explained that "the ready-sliced loaf must have a heavier wrapping than an unsliced one if it is not to dry out." It was also intended to counteract a rise in the price of bread, caused by the Office of Price Administration's authorization of a ten percent increase in flour prices.
In a Sunday radio address on January 24, New York City Mayor LaGuardia suggested that bakeries that had their own bread-slicing machines should be allowed to continue to use them, and on January 26, 1943, a letter appeared in The New York Times from a distraught housewife:
I should like to let you know how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household. My husband and four children are all in a rush during and after breakfast. Without ready-sliced bread I must do the slicing for toast—two pieces for each one—that's ten. For their lunches I must cut by hand at least twenty slices, for two sandwiches apiece. Afterward I make my own toast. Twenty-two slices of bread to be cut in a hurry!
On January 26, however, John F. Conaboy, the New York Area Supervisor of the Food Distribution Administration, warned bakeries, delicatessens, and other stores that were continuing to slice bread to stop, saying that "to protect the cooperating bakeries against the unfair competition of those who continue to slice their own bread... we are prepared to take stern measures if necessary."
On March 8, 1943, the ban was rescinded. While public outcry is generally credited for the reversal, Wickard stated that "Our experience with the order, however, leads us to believe that the savings are not as much as we expected, and the War Production Board tells us that sufficient wax paper to wrap sliced bread for four months is in the hands of paper processor and the baking industry."
It’s a good thing that no further bans were imposed on sliced bread. I’m sure the whole population would have protested.