The Time the U.S. Government Banned Sliced Bread

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iStock.com/scorpp

Around 1928, a Missouri jeweler named Otto F. Rohwedder invented the automatic bread-slicing machine and became the darling of American kitchens. Bakeries began advertising the pre-cut loaves as "the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped," prompting Americans to coin that immortal phrase: "The greatest thing since sliced bread."

But America's love of sliced bread wouldn't stop the government from later banning it.

Starting January 18, 1943—the midst of World War II—sliced bread was barred from American bakeries and homes. New baking regulations set by the Office of Price Administration had boosted flour prices, and the government wanted to prevent these costs from getting passed down to the consumer. By banning the use of expensive bread-slicing machines, the government was hoping bakeries could keep their prices low. Officials were also worried about the country's supply of wax paper—and sliced bread required twice as much paraffin wrapping as an unsliced loaf. (It prevented the slices from drying prematurely.)

The decision was extremely unpopular. On January 26, Sue Forrester of Fairfield, Connecticut wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times complaining on behalf of the country’s housewives [PDF]. "I should like to let you know how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household," Forrester wrote, saying she was forced to hand-cut more than 30 slices of bread every day for her family. It was a waste of American time and energy, she argued. It was also a waste of money: A good bread knife was difficult to find, let alone afford, during the war.

The rule was so disliked that nobody in the government apparently wanted to confess to having the idea. The ban was ordered by Food Administrator Claude R. Wickard, but the office of Price Administration blamed the idea on the agricultural department, which blamed the baking industry.

"The 'off-again-on-again' ban on sliced bread today has all the earmarks of a bureaucratic thriller," Illinois's Belvidere Daily Republican reported. "The mystery over 'whodunnit' in the first place is surprised only by the confusion in high places and the pointing of fingers at the next guy or any one within pointing distance."

The rule also apparently took everybody by surprise. (Or, as the Daily Republican put it, "[B]akers were caught with their wrappers down, so to speak.") According to the Chicago Tribune, "[T]he governmental ban on the sale of sliced bread, effective yesterday, caught hundreds of Chicago housewives by surprise and sent them scurrying to hardware stores to raid depleted supplies of bread knives."

The ban applied to everybody except hotels, restaurants, and railroad dining cars, which were awarded a 60-day reprieve to prepare. Bakeries that refused to abide by the regulation and continued using their bread slicers faced steep fines. The New York Area Supervisor of the Food Distribution Administration, John F. Conaboy, warned bakeries that the government was "prepared to take stern measures if necessary."

But even the law's biggest proponents couldn't seem to get behind it. Emil Fink, a prominent baker and member of the New York City Bakers Advisory Committee, pushed hard for the bread-slicing ban. But one year later, Fink was in court—for slicing bread. According to The New York Times, a U.S. Attorney chastised the bakery-owner: "[Fink] called upon the Government to enforce the regulation rigidly and, at that very time, his bakery was violating the law." Fink was fined $1000.

According to a February 1943 report in the Harrisburg Telegraph, the ban wasn't even saving money—in fact, bakers in the area saw sales drop as much as 5 or 10 percent. "While all bakers have varied reasons for the prevailing decrease, they all agree that the absence of sliced bread is at least playing some part in the drop," the paper reported.

Not only did the rule fail to save money, it didn't even save that much wax paper. On March 8, 1943, the ban was rescinded, prompting jubilant headlines across the country. As The New York Times trumpeted: "Sliced Bread Put Back on Sale; Housewives' Thumbs Safe Again."

Run! IHOP Is Giving Away Free Pancakes for National Pancake Day

What better way to celebrate National Pancake Day than with a free stack of IHOP's signature buttermilk pancakes?
What better way to celebrate National Pancake Day than with a free stack of IHOP's signature buttermilk pancakes?
StephanieFrey/iStock via Getty Images

If ever there were a day to forgo that container of leftovers in the fridge and treat yourself to breakfast for dinner, it’s today: IHOP is celebrating National Pancake Day by giving each customer a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes. The dine-in deal is available at participating locations from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.—but the hours can vary, so you might want to confirm with your local IHOP before heading there.

While a pile of hot, syrup-soaked pancakes is definitely a good enough incentive to visit IHOP immediately, it’s not the only one. IHOP is also hosting a sweepstakes that offers thousands of instant-win prizes across all locations, and you can only enter by scanning the QR code on your table at IHOP. One lucky carb-loader will win the grand prize—pancakes for life—and other rewards include everything from $500 IHOP gift cards to IHOP merchandise like blankets, watches, duffel bags, customizable jackets, and even bikes.

The pan-tastic event is all in the spirit of charity, and IHOP is hoping to raise more than $4 million for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Shriners Hospitals for Children, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society—you can donate online here. According to a press release, IHOP has contributed more than $30 million to its charity partners since beginning its National Pancake Day celebrations in 2006.

“IHOP launched its National Pancake Day event 15 years ago as a way to celebrate the best food ever—pancakes—and put a purpose behind the day by partnering with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and other charities to help kids in our communities,” Stephanie Peterson, IHOP’s executive director of communications, said in the release.

If you can’t make it to IHOP to claim your free short stack today, you can always celebrate National Pancake Day with a tall stack of homemade pancakes—find out how to make them extra fluffy here.

9 Royally Interesting Facts About King Cake

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It’s Carnival season, and that means bakeries throughout New Orleans are whipping up those colorful creations known as King Cakes. And while today it’s primarily associated with Big Easy revelry, the King Cake has a long and checkered history that reaches back through the centuries. Here are a few facts about its origins, its history in America, and how exactly that plastic baby got in there.

1. The King Cake is believed to have Pagan origins.

The king cake is widely associated with the Christian festival of the Epiphany, which celebrates the three kings’ visit to the Christ child on January 6. Some historians, however, believe the cake dates back to Roman times, and specifically to the winter festival of Saturnalia. Bakers would put a fava bean—which back then was used for voting, and had spiritual significance—inside the cake, and whoever discovered it would be considered king for a day. Drinking and mayhem abounded. In the Middle Ages, Christian followers in France took up the ritual, replacing the fava bean with a porcelain replica engraved with a face.

2. The King Cake stirred up controversy during the French Revolution.

To bring the pastry into the Christian tradition, bakers got rid of the bean and replaced it with a crowned king’s head to symbolize the three kings who visited baby Jesus. Church officials approved of the change, though the issue became quite thorny in late 18th century France, when a disembodied king’s head was seen as provocation. In 1794, the mayor of Paris called on the “criminal patissiers” to end their “filthy orgies.” After they failed to comply, the mayor simply renamed the cake the “Gateau de Sans-Culottes,” after the lower-class sans-culottes revolutionaries.

3. The King Cake determined the early kings and queens of Mardi Gras.


A Mardi Gras King in 1952.

Two of the oldest Mardi Gras krewes (NOLA-talk for "crew," or a group that hosts major Mardi Gras events, like parades or balls) brought about the current cake tradition. The Rex Organization gave the festival its colors (purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power) in 1872, but two years earlier, the Twelfth Night Revelers krewe brought out a King Cake with a gold bean hidden inside and served it up to the ladies in attendance. The finder was crowned queen of the ball. Other krewes adopted the practice as well, crowning the kings and queens by using a gold or silver bean. The practice soon expanded into households throughout New Orleans, where today the discovery of a coin, bean or baby trinket identifies the buyer of the next King Cake.

4. The King Cake's baby trinkets weren't originally intended to have religious significance.

Although today many view the baby trinkets found inside king cakes to symbolize the Christ child, that wasn’t what Donald Entringer—the owner of the renowned McKenzie’s Bakery in New Orleans, which started the tradition—had in mind. Entringer was instead looking for something a little bit different to put in his king cakes, which had become wildly popular in the city by the mid-1900s. One story has it that Entringer found the original figurines in a French Quarter shop. Another, courtesy of New Orleans food historian Poppy Tooker (via NPR’s The Salt), states that a traveling salesman with a surplus of figurines stopped by the bakery and suggested the idea. "He had a big overrun on them, and so he said to Entringer, 'How about using these in a king cake,'" said Tooker.

5. Bakeries are afraid of getting sued.

What to many is an offbeat tradition is, to others, a choking hazard. It’s unclear how many consumers have sued bakeries over the plastic babies and other trinkets baked inside king cakes, but apparently it’s enough that numerous bakeries have stopped including them altogether, or at least offer it on the side. Still, some bakeries remain unfazed—like Gambino’s, whose cinnamon-infused king cake comes with the warning, "1 plastic baby baked inside."

6. The French version of the King Cake comes with a paper crown.


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In France, where the flaky, less colorful (but still quite tasty) galette de rois predates its American counterpart by a few centuries, bakers often include a paper crown with their cake, just to make the “king for a day” feel extra special. The trinkets they put inside are also more varied and intricate, and include everything from cars to coins to religious figurines. Some bakeries even have their own lines of collectible trinkets.

7. There's also the Rosca de Reyes, the Bolo Rei, and the Dreikönigskuchen.


"Roscón de Reyes" by Tamorlan - Self Made (Foto Propia).

Versions of the King Cake can be found throughout Europe and Latin America. The Spanish Rosca de Reyes and the Portugese Bolo Rei are usually topped with dried fruit and nuts, while the Swiss Dreikönigskuchen has balls of sweet dough surrounding the central cake. The Greek version, known as Vasilopita, resembles a coffee cake and is often served for breakfast.

8. The King Cake is no longer just a New Orleans tradition.

From New York to California, bakeries are serving up King Cakes in the New Orleans fashion, as well as the traditional French style. On Long Island, Mara’s Homemade makes their tri-colored cakes year round, while in Los Angeles you can find a galette de rois (topped with a nifty crown, no less) at Maison Richard. There are also lots of bakeries that deliver throughout the country, many offering customizable fillings from cream cheese to chocolate to fruits and nuts.

9. The New Orleans Pelicans have a King Cake baby mascot—and it is terrifying.

Every winter you can find this monstrosity at games, local supermarkets, and in your worst nightmares.

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