Bread slicer arrives at museum; formal unveiling July 7
A slice of history arrived via a large panel truck in Chillicothe late Wednesday afternoon. This particular artifact is an original Rohwedder bread-slicing machine on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C.
The machine had been on the road since early Monday morning with other parcels that were delivered in North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Kansas and Arkansas, before arriving in Chillicothe.
"This is one of the most interesting objects I moved," said driver Chris Balint, of Bonsai ARTransport, of Baltimore, Md.
A forklift was used to move the wooden box containing the bread-slicing machine out of the truck and into Grand River Historical Society Museum, where it will be unveiled during a public ceremony on Sunday, July 7.
A small group of people were on hand to witness Wednesday's delivery, including museum Curator Pam Clingerman.
"I can't believe it has finally happened," said Clingerman. "It has been a long time."
Paul Benson, chief conservator with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, arrived in Chillicothe today (Thursday) to uncrate the bread slicer and place it in its temporary home at Grand River Historical Society Museum.
Eighty-five years ago, on July 7, 1928, a Chillicothe bakery became the first place in the world to sell commercially-sliced bread. The bakery was owned and operated by Frank Bench and the machine was the invention of Otto F. Rohwedder, of Davenport, Iowa.
Sliced bread was such an instant success that the machine in Chillicothe is believed to have fallen apart after six months of heavy use. Rohwedder's second slicer, now at the Chillicothe museum, was used at Korn's Bakery, in Davenport, Iowa. The machine was donated to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History by Rohwedder's daughter, Margaret R. Steinhauer, of Albion, Mich., in 1974. The slicer had been in the Smithsonian's collections storage facility in Silver Hill, Md., since that time.
Also as part of the Smithsonian's collection is a photograph of the original installation at Chillicothe Bakery with baker Bench talking on the telephone. That photo was used as the basis for a mural, painted by local artist Kelly Poling, that will surround the bread-slicing machine.
The museum's quest for obtaining the bread-slicer on loan from the Smithsonian began about 10 years ago, with the initial loan request made by Drs. Jack Neal and Frank Stark, long-time boosters of the museum.
Although the Smithsonian was interested in loaning out the machine, the local museum board concluded that it did not have the finances or time to continue with the request, and the project was shelved.
"In 2011, after an endowment that allowed us to make much needed upgrades to the museum family and to add Pam Clingerman as a full-time curator, in 2011, the board felt it was time to contact the Smithsonian again," said museum board member Ron Wilder.
"Our curator, with the help of former Smithsonian board member Claudia (Ream) Allen, a former Chillicothe resident now living in California, was able to cut much of the red tape which allowed Pam to make contact with the right people in the Smithsonian," Wilder said.
The process lasted about 20 months and included completing official letters of intent, a 27-page facility report, an emergency handbook, upgrading the environmental controls, submitting four months of environmental readings, an updated security system, floor plan, photographs and agreeing to cover the cost of crating, shipping and insuring the slicer.
This is the second model of the bread slicer, manufactured by the Micro Machine Co., of Bettendorf. It is on loan to the museum for a period of three years.
The Museum is closed now through July 6, to complete the "A Slice of America" exhibit area for the slicer and to make preparations for a special ceremony to honor the 85th anniversary of sliced bread on Sunday, July 7. The museum will be open from 1 until 6 p.m. on July 7.
A granddaughter of inventor Otto Rohwedder now residing in Louisville, Ky., is planning to attend the ceremony, along with relatives of the Bench family. Several other local and state dignitaries are also expected.
Wilder, on behalf of the historical society, extended special credit to Catherine Stortz Ripley, of the Constitution-Tribune, who originally broke the story of Chillicothe being the Home of Sliced Bread and wrote about the Rohwedder bread-slicer.
"It is due to her research and diligence that this story came to light," Wilder said.
Ann Russell, who made the trip with Balint on Wednesday, said she enjoyed making the Chillicothe delivery.
"I'm glad we got to be a part of this history," Russell said.