The story of sliced bread is a great example of the creative process—from inspiration to realization. Bringing any imaginative idea into reality is always far more complicated than people expect. As with any creative success, the invention of sliced bread involved imagination, inspiration and determination. The use of the phrase ‘It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread,’ shows that it has become synonymous with innovation.
Inspiration. Otto Frederick Rohwedder asked a revolutionary question—and the answer was sliced bread. Inspiration is sparked by asking an interesting question. The answer is often the easy bit. Otto Frederick Rohwedder asked a simple question, ‘Why can’t a loaf of bread be pre-sliced?’ It seems obvious with hindsight.
Imagination. In 1912 Rohwedder decided to make his vision a reality, and began to develop a machine that would slice bread automatically. He drew up many plans and made numerous prototypes.
Risk. A Jeweller by profession, Rohwedder knew nothing about the world of baking. It took him 16 years to develop a bread slicer. He was so convinced the idea would be a huge success that he sold his three jewelry stores to fund the development of the bread slicing machines.
Determination. Rohwedder worked on several prototypes, including one that held a sliced loaf together with metal pins. This model and several others proved unsuccessful, but his biggest challenge came in late 1917 when a fire destroyed his design blueprints at a factory in Illinois that had agreed to build his first slicing devices. It would take several years for him to recoup his losses, but Rohwedder continued to make refinements to his design. He had to find work as an investment and security agent. In the course of his research he realized that he would need to find a way to prevent a loaf of sliced bread from going stale. By 1927, he had devised a solution to this problem: a machine that would slice the bread and also wrap it.
Belief. Rohwedder believed in his idea and plugged away at it. Bakers took a long time to be convinced by the merits of the machine. Just as the manufacturing of his machine was taking off, the Great Depression struck in 1929. Rohwedder was forced to sell the rights of his invention to Micro-Westco Co. who appointed him as vice-president of the company. It was a good move because they were better at marketing the product and it took off.
The determination to see a project through is even more important than inspiration.
Rod Judkins MA RCA is an artist, writer, and professional public speaker, delivering talks and workshops that explain the creative process and help individuals and businesses to be more inspired in their lives and work. He is author of the international bestseller, Change Your Mind: 57 Ways to Unlock Your Creative Self.