Chillicothe Missouri Baking Company Bakery
Home of the Sliced Bread
Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Iowa (1880-1960), also known as the “Father of Sliced Bread”, was an American inventor, engineer, and businessman who developed the first commercial automatic bread-slicing machine. His father, Claus Rohwedder was born on March 17, 1845 at Von-der-Geest, Germany, where he completed his education, and arrived in Davenport, Iowa in 1866. He was a stone mason contractor that specialized in residential homes, bridges, businesses, and city aqueducts. In 1869, he married Miss Elizabeth Margarette Jannssen after she arrived in Davenport a year before. She was born on December 23, 1848 and educated in Germany and the couple had a daughter and four sons, including Otto F. Rohwedder. In 1900 Otto graduated from the Northern Illinois College of Ophthalmology and Otology in Chicago, Illinois. After graduation, he married Miss Carrie Johnson in 1905 and then moved to St. Joseph, Missouri. In 1912, he devised the concept of a mechanized bread slicer. In 1916, he returned to Davenport, Iowa to brainstorm and construct his designs. The next year, the factory owned by Rohwedder burned in a fire.
Marion Franklin (Frank) Bench was born on November 7, 1883 on a farm in Utica, Missouri. His parents were James Bench and Sarah Elizabeth Reynolds Bench, who married June 7, 1866 near Dawn, Missouri. They had seven children together. In 1901, Frank graduated from Utica High School and then later from Bayless Business College in Dubuque, Iowa. Frank Bench married Miss Lillian Bornhauser in Dubuque in 1906 and had one daughter, Geraldine. After Mrs. Lillian Bench passed away in 1909, Frank Bench acquired a restaurant in Browning in 1913. Two years later, he married Hattie Ferguson, a primary education teacher from Utica. On December 26, 1916, he opened Bench’s Modern Steam Bakery, a bakery shop on Clay and Martin Streets in Chillicothe and gave away 1500 loaves of bread as free samples. The bakery contained a big rising oven that could bake up to 700 loaves an hour and the machinery could produce 1,800 loaves an hour. In 1919, the bakery installed another big oven and new equipment, which now allowed the bakery to bake 1300 loaves per hour, which was also shipped to about forty towns outside of Chillicothe. Due to the increase in his business, Bench started the construction of a new larger bakery on First and Elm Streets in 1920. It included two stories and a basement. The first floor housed the bakery and the second floor was apartments. On September 27, 1921, the Chillicothe Baking Company Bakery opened and produced their scientific-based brand of Kleen Maid bread with the help of a food expert from the food laboratory of The W. E. Long Company in Chicago. Their specialty was the popular split-top loaf.
The next year, Otto F. Rohwedder, representing the investment firm of J. E. Drysdale & Company, visited the Chillicothe Business College to speak on Salesmanship. In 1923, the Drysdale firm supported a deal with Frank Bench and the Micro Machine Company in Bettendorf, Iowa, to manufacture Bench’s folding metal bread box that would allow the company to ship bread with the agreement of the U.S. Postal Service. Rohwedder collaborated with Bench on the design of the shipping container. In 1925, both Rohwedder and Bench worked together again on a bread rack for displaying and storing, which was patented the next year. The bakery suffered two fires in 1926 and again in 1927, but Bench continued to work at perfecting the baking and the delivery of the bread. By 1928, Rohwedder perfected a bread-slicing machine with Bench as the only investor and he marketed the sliced bread to the public. The patented machine not only sliced bread with multiple blades but also wrapped the bread efficiently. Bench’s Bakery sold their Kleen Maid sliced bread beginning on July 7, 1928. Soon bakers wanted a machine that would efficiently slice bread, but unfortunately, Bench's success was short-lived.
During the Great Depression, Frank Bench had no choice but to close his bakery and Rohwedder sold the rights of his bread machine to the Mac-Roh Sales and Manufacturing Company in Bettendorf, Iowa. In 1931, U. A. or Al Burnett of Marshall and former Chillicothean, purchased the Chillicothe Banking Company Bakery building to continue the baking business in Chillicothe. He remodeled the building and installed new equipment and selected D. F. Lebane to serve as the manager of the plant. In the 1940s the catchphrase, “The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread”, became popularized in American Culture. Today, the building is home to the Sliced Bread Innovation Center.