A slice of history in the form of an original Rohwedder bread slicing machine — which is now part of the Smithsonian Institution's collection — is scheduled to arrive in Chillicothe this summer.
Grand River Historical Society Museum officials announced to the Constitution-Tribune on Wednesday that the museum has been approved to house the machine on a temporary loan from the Smithsonian Institution. It is hoped that the historical piece will be set in place at the museum by the 85th anniversary of sliced bread.
The original Rohwedder bread slicing machine — the first of its kind to commercially slice bread — was put to use in Frank Bench's Chillicothe Baking Company on July 7, 1928. According to records on file with the Smithsonian, the machine was used until it “fell apart.”
The second slicer was used at Korn's Bakery, in Davenport, Iowa, and was donated to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History by Margaret R. Steinhauer, of Albion, Mich., in 1974. Her father, Otto F. Rohwedder, of Davenport, Iowa, developed the machine to slice fresh bakery bread. The slicer had been in the Smithsonian's collections storage facility in Silver Hill, Md., since.
The piece is now being conserved and prepared for shipping to the Chillicothe's museum.
“When the Smithsonian sends a piece out, it has to be conserved,” said Grand River Historical Society Museum Curator Pamela Clingerman. “It has to be made sure that everything on it works properly, that it's not rusty, and that it is fit for exhibit because it is coming from the national museum.”
Preparing the local museum to house the national artifact was an arduous task in order to meet the Smithsonian's requirements.
“We installed a new security system, we had to do environmental readings, and had to buy hygro-thermometers and have them calibrated,” Clingerman said. “The whole museum had to be modified.”
The museum officials are now awaiting approval of their exhibit plan, meeting the Smithsonian's requirements. Part of the requirement is that the item to be on display cannot be on a main aisle and it cannot have two open areas, nor be near air conditioning vents.
“We plan to paint the bakery on the three walls surrounding the bread slicer,” Clingerman said. “We are putting it on a base that will support it. We will put in a Plexi-window so that people can't get close to it to touch it, but they can look at it.”
She said text panels will be used to provide information about the bread slicer.
“It's a slice of Chillicothe history,” the curator said about the slicer. “It's a very important part of Chillicothe.”
In addition to the many hours involved in preparing the application as well as the physical aspects of the museum, local efforts to secure the loan were supported by former Chillicothean Claudia Ream Allen, who serves on the National Board of the Smithsonian Institution, and Congressman Sam Graves.
Page 2 of 2 - Efforts had been made years ago by the Sliced Bread Committee and the museum to secure the Smithsonian's slicer on loan, but lack of funding and inadequate housing were prohibitive. The museum, at the time, was not properly equipped nor did it have the funds to make the necessary upgrades. The Sliced Bread Committee also lacked funds to establish a proper exhibit.
However, since that time, the museum was gifted funds that allowed for physical upgrades and has employed a curator with museum experience.
“The building is up to par,” said Clingerman, who is in her third year as the museum's curator. “It is environmentally controlled. We had to check candles to make sure the lighting was the right lighting. We had to make sure the area can support the bread slicing machine because it is over 500 pounds.”
In addition to the expense involved to provide proper display, it is estimated that the historical society will pay around $8,000 to have the slicer prepared and shipped to Chillicothe, including the proper insurance and personnel to make the transport and installation, according to Livingston County Historical Society President Marvin Holcer. The historical society has already paid $2,000 for conservation of the slicer.
Holcer said that the group has spent about three years altering the museum to get ready for the slicer's display. He said that the Smithsonian is now planning to display the piece after its Chillicothe visit. It is anticipated that the slicer will be in Chillicothe for three years.
Holcer said that having the Smithsonian's slicer will be a huge draw for tourists.
“It means that tourism in Chillicothe is going to influx like you can't believe,” he said.
The fact that Chillicothe was the first place in the world to sell commercially-sliced bread seemingly was forgotten until 2001, when Constitution-Tribune News Editor Catherine Stortz Ripley came across the 1928 newspaper article stating that sliced bread was sold in Chillicothe. That discovery led to locating Richard Rohwedder, son of the bread slicing machine inventor, who confirmed this piece of local history. Richard Rohwedder also had documents supporting the first installation in Chillicothe, as well as the photograph shown accompanying this article regarding his father's second slicer, which was installed at Korn's Bakery in Davenport, Iowa.