Flour Powerby
(c) Arthur L. Lortie, 2015

I'm not as well-versed in my scriptures as my poor parents would have hoped, but I doubt James, Peter, John, nor any Corinthians or Thessalonians could anticipate how feeding a multitude with bread would be promoted once those "Show me the money!" Madison Avenue advertisers took their turn.

Everyone has heard the phrase, "the greatest invention since sliced bread." Well, this is the story of the invention and promotion of sliced bread. And how, in the hands of the wrong people, a good idea can take a left turn onto the Highway to Hell.

In 1917, Otto Frederick Rohwedder had built a prototype bread slicer, but the all knowing Gawds took their best shot at saving civilization, and both the device and blueprints were destroyed in a factory fire.

A decade later, Otto, undaunted, now found himself needing more time to run his jewelry stores in St. Joseph, Missouri, and decided that he had been wasting way too much of it slicing bread to the proper size; it was either too thick to fit in the toaster or too thin to take a dab of butter without shredding.

Goldilocks had had much the same problem but she lacked the engineering training to invent her own Posturepedic and avoid those pesky bears.

But Otto WAS an engineer. Now I suppose Otto could have just designed a toaster with adjustable compartments or melted the butter first, but he'd still be left with the time consuming task of cleaning up all those annoying bread crumbs. So he opted to re-design and patent the world's first automated bread slicer (and wrapper) instead.

In 1928, the Chillicothe Baking Company of Missouri liked what they saw and decided to throw some of their spare change at Otto. The sale and marketing of the world's new and improved food staple had begun! Their ads made up for their lack of humility by using as much hyperbole and the largest font they could find --

This turned out to be such a wonderful idea in fact, that in 1930, the Continental Baking Co. threw even larger wads of cash at Rohwedder, and began to market sliced bread nationally as part of its Wonder Bread line. (along with another new product called Twinkies).

Wonder Bread's first ad campaigns were targeted directly at mothers, playing up the obvious convenience and time saved. It even added testimonials from relieved housewives, young brides and grandmothers alike. "I gave a tea party and wanted my sandwiches to be particularly nice," said one. "Wonder Bread for me hereafter ...".

Well, gee, if it made her party better, then, dammit ... uhhh ... gosh-darn-it says Debbie from Dubuque, then that's the bread for me!

By 1939, the Wonder Bread Bakery was an attraction at the 1939 World's Fair, alongside Tomorrowland and Superman. It was being endorsed by stars like King Kong's Fay Wray and Maisie's Ann Southern as the secret source of their youthful vitality! Then, in the 1940's, vitamins and minerals were added to the product to combat certain diseases, and is given credit for reducing the incidence of the diseases beriberi and pellagra in America!

But in between, the company fell flat on its face trying to appeal to a new demographic.

The menfolk, of course, never shopped for bread. This was the 1930's! He was too busy smoking cigars, swigging whiskey and ruling the country. Food shopping was the natural gawd-given right of wimmen -- grandmothers and mothers, wives and mistresses, and the hired help.

bread2.jpgSo the 1936 ads targeted the single woman. Especially the unmarried single woman approaching 30 and, later, those whose dimensions were slightly larger than the norm. Good luck doing any of that today ...

The comic strip sections of the 1930's were, unlike today, an amazing place to visit. They were filled with full page masterpieces, by artists that would become legendary. Hal Foster ... Frank Godwin ... Alex Raymond ... and many many more.

The inevitable ads, even those by Wonder Bread, were tailored to look as much like the strips as possible. Some ad campaigns went so far as to have continuing stories ("tune in next week to see how Eveready batteries save Timmy from the bear!") or recurring characters, both real (aviator Frank Hawks) and imaginary (Buck Rogers).

In May and June of 1936, Wonder Bread released 5 ads, one every 2 weeks. The unknown artist, whose initials revealed he took the same handwriting course that your doctor did in order to master his prescription writing skills (probably to protect himself from militant feminists), capably traced the art of hottest young artist of the time, Alex Raymond of Flash Gordon and Secret Agent X-9 fame, He then used this to deliver the company's message to the unmarried 28 year old woman. And that message was --

"We can save you from becoming a spinster at 30! Just as long as you eat your sliced Wonder Bread!"

To make sure nobody missed the point, the hapless ladies were beaten over the head with it! There were blurbs from The Happy Wonder Bakers about the "wise women" who eat "two slices of slo-baked Wonder Bread with every meal" -- and don't forget that Hostess cupcake or Twinkie while you're at it! After all, if you can't trust the advice of a Happy Baker, who can you trust?


Pair that up with the "frank" life stories of a random Famous Artist's Model -- "A few years ago, I was ... not unattractive ... just uninteresting."; or "no one likes a wilting woman". Luckily for them -- and you!, you poor pathetic unmarried lump! -- there's Wonder Bread!

Gee, who was that Happy Baker anyway? I sure wanted to thank him ...

[I should add that I researched all these Famous Artists' Models and discovered that they were indeed all married before they reached the dreaded three-oh. And they all married rich. So perhaps there's some truth in advertising.

One of them, Minerva Fedyn, had claimed in an earlier ad campaign, that her beauty was the result of using Lux Soap; mom and dad had nothing to do with it. Apparently Lux was her fountain of youth but Wonder Bread was her aphrodisiac.]

The height of absurdity, however, came when they claimed that any man was justified in joining Ashley Madison for a fling if his significant other wasn't wolfing down two slices of white bread with every meal.

But our ad executives weren't done yet. Not by a long shot.

Three years later, with everyone married and over 30, they decided to take on the happy wife, who, after landing her rich stud with her Wonder Bread diet, was getting complacent and stuffing her face with Twinkies while the Big Guy was at work. "Under those ugly rolls of fat -- A Lovely Figure!" one ad read.

Our Happy Bakers were on a roll now. They weren't content to stop with just Plump Paula. Naw -- she was too easy. Luckily, Dumpy Dora was just hanging around ...

The 30's, of course, were a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Somehow a major company could get away with a completely sexist ad while dispensing both bad career and food pyramid advice -- while at the same time swiping art from one of the world's most popular artists. Somewhere on Ashley Madison Avenue today, there's at least a few dozen envious executives trying to build a time machine.

I was slightly disappointed, though.

I was certain when the Bread folk sobered up after their weekend away at the Playboy mansion and reviewed all of this, they'd suddenly realized they hadn't offended any religious or ethnic groups yet! Luckily Hitler and Mussolini distracted them for a while.

And that's too bad! After seeing what they did to sell the Biblical loaves of bread, I was dying to see how they'd hype fish.

The Worst Thing Since Sliced Bread - A Visual History(if you're interested in seeing the full sized ads, I stored them at https://www.mediafire.com/?z8mj401yax5srws )

1930 - America's housewives love the new Sliced Wonder Bread!

May 3rd and May 17th, 1936 - "Read my confession ..."

May 31st and June 14th, 1936 - Man does not live on bread alone ...

June 28th, 1936 - Old maid at 30 ...

1937 to 1939 - Celebrity sweepstakes

October 8, 1939 & October 22, 1939 - Nobody wants to dance with fat girls

1941 - Robert Frost and John Keats were out of their price range