Why Did The USA Once Ban Sliced Bread?

The year was 1943. And the United States of America made a bold and daring decision. A decision that would shock the nation and send ripples of disbelief throughout the world. The US government banned sliced bread! That's right, you heard it, the most popular and beloved food item in the nation was banned from the shelves of every grocery store. The nation was in a state of panic, and people were left scratching their heads and wondering why this great tragedy had befallen them.

The story really begins in 1928 when a Missouri jeweller named Otto F. Rohwedder invented the automatic bread-slicing machine. It became a pivotal point for bakeries across the country and they began advertising the pre-cut loaves as "the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped," which in turn gave us the phrase "The greatest thing since sliced bread."

On January 18, 1943, the United States banned the sale of sliced bread as part of nationwide rationing during World War II. Since the price of flour had increased, the government planned to ban extraneous expenses to ensure the price of bread didn’t increase for the end consumer. The ban was meant to save money on two things: the wax paper used for preserving sliced bread and the expensive bread-slicing machines used to slice it. But, predictably, this move wasn’t met with the unanimous popularity they had been anticipating. 

To US housewives this move was on par with all the other cutbacks that wartime had enforced as they struggled to cut dozens of even slices that would fit in their toasters every morning. The new ruling was so unpopular that nobody in the government wanted to fess up to being the one who made the decision. It was later traced back to Food Administrator Claude R. Wickard, but at the time the Price Administration blamed the idea on the agricultural department, who in turn blamed the baking industry. The finger-pointing continued as housewives raided hardware stores for knives and fines were levied on bakeries that refused to comply. 

By February 1943, the people had had enough. A report in the Harrisburg Telegraph stated that the ban wasn’t even having the necessary cost-cutting advantage and in fact, bread sales had dropped by 5-10%. Savings on wax paper, on the other hand, were negligible. 

So on March 8, 1943, the ban was rescinded, prompting exuberant headlines across the country. As headlined in The New York Times: "Sliced Bread Put Back on Sale; Housewives' Thumbs Safe Again." The ban on sliced bread was a hilarious and absurd event in American history. But, it also serves as a cautionary tale, reminding us to always question the motives of those in power and to stand up for what we believe in, even if it's just the right to enjoy a perfectly sliced piece of toast.