Historical Patents: Sliced Bread

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Death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The staff at Franks & Co were saddened to learn of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Our thoughts are with His Majesty King Charles III and the rest of the Royal Family.

The United Kingdom is now officially in a period of mourning until after the Queen’s state funeral which is to be held on Monday 19 September. Normal day-to-day business will continue throughout this period.

The UK government has declared the day of the funeral to be a national Bank Holiday, so the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office will be closed on Monday 19 September.

The United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office’s official guidance on bank holidays is given below:

The office is deemed to be closed on weekends, Good Friday, Christmas Day and all England and Wales bank holidays for all types of business, except for the filing of new applications not claiming priority. If documents are filed for these types of business at times when the office is deemed to be closed, they will receive an official filing date of the next working day.

Any official time period which expires on a weekend or any other day on which the office is closed is extended to the next working day.

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This month marks the 90th anniversary of the very first sliced bread patents.

Photo of brown sliced bread
Otto Rohwedder's sliced bread patent

By the late 1920’s the majority of bread had moved from being home baked to being factory made. The factory-made bread was incredibly soft and in turn, incredibly difficult to slice at home with a traditional bread knife, yet factory slicing would result in the bread being stale before it was even sold.

In November 1928 Otto F. Rohwedder filed the first-ever patents on the mechanisms he created to slice and package bread. The jeweller from Missouri invented a machine with a conveyor belt and of a series of uniform cutting bands that would slice an entire loaf of bread in a single operation and then promptly and efficiently package the loaf. You can read Otto Rohwedder’s patent disclosing the slicer here US1867377A, one of the sliced bread packaging patents can also be found here US1816399A.

Sliced bread was not an instant hit. Bakeries were sceptical that people would forgo the longevity of their loaves just so they wouldn’t have to slice it themselves. It was Rohwedder’s friend Frank Bench, owner of the Chillicothe Baking Company, who took a chance on the invention. Bench’s gamble paid off and the bakeries sales boosted by 2000%. Pre-sliced bread then went national when the Continental Baking Company introduced Wonder Bread to the country in 1930.

 Otto Rohwedder's patent image


Page 2 of Otto Frederick Rohwedder’s patent “Machine for slicing an entire loaf of bread at a single operation” filed November 26, 1928.

The convenience of slice bread resulted in people eating more bread than ever before. The increase in bread consumption consequently increased the sales of spreads such as jams and even automatic pop-up toasters. Sliced bread was briefly banned during WWII in an attempt to reduce the amount of wrapping used on a loaf of bread. There were numerous objections and even letters from distraught housewives complaining of tirelessly slicing bread, the ban was subsequently lifted after less than two months. There was no going back, sliced bread was here to stay.

The idiom "the greatest thing since sliced bread" is commonly used to praise an invention or development. This phrase references sliced bread as the ultimate innovative achievement, and as such it, of course, has its associated patents.

In 1933 Otto F. Rohwedder sold his patent rights to a larger company during the Great Depression. Patents do not just hold a legal role, but also a strategic one, good inventions that are protected by strong patents will be useful and therefore valuable. Rohwedder used his patents to survive the longest, deepest economic crisis in American history.

Article Published November 21, 2018