History of bread – 20th century

The Twentieth Century

Gas ovens replaced the wood and coal burning brick ovens, producing much more even results. Large automated baking units significantly increased productivity. The Chorleywood Bread Process, which enabled increased use of home grown wheat, helped produce more bread at a lower price in the UK. Today the wrapped, sliced loaf is a staple in the British diet but fresh ideas and development of new techniques continue to provide a variety of new ethnic and speciality breads.


Otto Rohwedder, an American engineer and inventor, started work on developing a bread slicing machine and after many setbacks produced a machine that sliced bread and wrapped it to keep the moisture in. It took many years for his machine to become accepted.


Otto Rohwedder’s bread slicing machine was first exhibited at a bakery trade fair in America. It was first used by the Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri in 1928. Sales of the machine to other bakeries increased and sliced and wrapped bread became available across the country.


Scientists identified the benefits of wholemeal flour and bread but this did not change the nation’s overwhelming preference for white bread.


Introduction of commercial bread slicers for use in large bakeries. Sliced bread appeared in Britain in 1930 under the Wonderbread label.


By this time around 80% of bread sold in the US was pre-sliced and wrapped. Americans loved it so much that the expression “the best thing since sliced bread” was coined.


Calcium was added to flour to prevent rickets which had been detected as common in women joining the land army.


The London Wholesale and Multiple Bakers joined with regional organisations to form The Federation of Bakers, to assist in organising the wartime production and distribution of bread. The ‘National Loaf’, roughly equivalent to today’s brown bread, was introduced due to shortage of shipping space for white flour.


Re-introduction of slicing and wrapping loaves which was prohibited during World War II as an economy measure.


The Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Act, known as the Night Baking Act, came into force. It was the culmination of a long campaign to control night working in bakeries Although the working conditions in bakeries which had prompted the campaign had largely disappeared by the 1950s, the Act lead to the introduction of the National Agreements of the Baking Industry between employers and the Bakers’ Union, regulating working conditions in the baking industry. Although the industry has now moved away from national bargaining, the National Agreements still form the basis for working arrangements in most companies. The Night Baking Act was repealed in 1986.


The National Loaf was abolished. Laws were introduced whereby all flour other than wholemeal had to be fortified with minimum amounts of calcium, iron, Vitamin B1 (thiamin) and nicotinic acid.

Ever-increasing efficiency of production and distribution systems, as well as the development of the supermarket, began the shift away from bread produced by small master bakers and the emergence of the large wholesale companies.


The Bread and Flour Regulations were introduced, governing the composition and additives permitted in bread and flour.


The Chorleywood Bread Process, first developed in 1961, came into general use. This substantially reduced the long fermentation period by introducing high energy mixing for just a few minutes, dramatically reducing the time taken to produce a loaf. The process also permitted a much greater proportion of home grown wheat to be used in the grist.

As the process become widespread and coupled with an increase in the scale of bread production as bakers consolidated, merged or were taken over, coupled with the continuing growth of the supermarket, the ever increasing demand for sliced and wrapped bread maintained its pace.

This reflected the changing nature of British society. Women were going out to work in substantial numbers for the first time, there was a substantial uplift in post war affluence, and it was a decade of technological advancement – sliced and wrapped bread fitted neatly into this cultural shift by providing above all convenience.


First amendment of Bread and Flour Regulations.


Spillers left the baking market reducing the major players from three to two Allied Bakeries and British Bakeries.


Previous Bread and Flour Regulations replaced with new version limiting number of permitted additives but allowing ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) in wholemeal bread for the first time. This vastly improves the softness of the wholemeal loaf and leads to an increase in popularity.


Latest version of Bread and Flour Regulations introduced.


Current set of Bread and Flour Regulations implemented.


Intense supermarket price competition saw own-label cheapest on display bread hit 7p a loaf bringing the issue of persistent below cost selling of bread by the supermarkets to the top of the industry’s agenda. An inquiry into the practice was launched by the Competition Commission.