No Loafing Matter
Written by Kirsten Mouton
Adult Services Coordinator / Archives & Genealogy Livingston County Library
M.A. in Archaeology, B.A. in Anthropology
Born and raised in Utica, Livingston County, Missouri, in 1883, Marion Franklin Bench moved to Chillicothe in 1916 to “feed its people and the people of its trade territory bread.” He bought a home and used the building next door for his Modern Steam Bakery, complete with “clean, sanitary ovens.” Business was so plentiful that he bought a lot at Elm and First Streets in Chillicothe and built a larger bakery under the new name the Chillicothe Baking Company in 1921. “Bench’s Bread” used the finest ingredients and was billed as “nourishing” and “strength building.”
Frank was a savvy entrepreneur. The market for his two salad dressings grew so rapidly that he had to move it back to the old Modern Steam Bakery building. Fresh loaves of bread were delivered to neighborhood grocery stores via his “motor delivery wagon.” Bench’s bread was lighter and moister than even homemade bread, or so the claim goes. His “pastry wagon” delivered cakes and pastries to the doorsteps of clients all over Chillicothe. His cakes were just like homemade, unlike so many bakeries that used shredded wheat biscuits or even rye bread as base ingredients.
Frank was also an inventor, creating a folding box in which to mail bread in 1923. He was one of two finalists under consideration by the U.S. Postal Department for delivery service. At about this same time, Frank and a friend and fellow inventor, Otto Rohwedder, collaborated on the design of a bread rack for display. Otto had also been working on a bread slicing machine, and Frank helped him perfect it.
It was against this backdrop, that Frank Bench helped to change the world of bread. On July 7, 1928, Otto’s son, Richard, pushed a loaf of Klein Maid bread through the first bread slicing machine in Frank’s Chillicothe Baking Company. History was made! Bakers from as far as St. Joseph and Kansas City drove to the Chillicothe Baking Company to get their bread sliced while they waited for their own machines to be manufactured and delivered. Production at Frank’s bakery increased by 2000%.
The Great Depression came along at about the same time as many other bakers were getting their own bread slicing machines. Frank’s bakery did not survive. By 1930 he had sold the building and given up on his bread, cakes, pastries and salad dressings. Neighborhood bakeries and grocery stores continued for decades, but Frank Bench got out of the baking and food industry for good.
Eventually all of this was forgotten. It wasn’t until 2003 that Cathy Ripley stumbled across an old article and rediscovered this history. In 2018, the Missouri legislature created Sliced Bread Day so all of Missouri could recognize and appreciate the achievements of Frank and Otto and never forget how they changed the world. The next time you go to make a sandwich or toast, think about what they did!