Tag Archives: Technological milestone

Otto Frederick Rohwedder

Otto Frederick Rohwedder

Happy birthday
July 7, 1880 – November 8, 1960

Otto Frederick Rohwedder

Best thing since…

The expression that something is “the best thing since sliced bread” is one, I guess, that most people younger (other than Boomers) do not recognize.

Even for Boomers, it is an expression that they likely winced at when they heard a parent or grandparent use it.

Until a Boomer, or anyone, tries to actually slice a loaf of bread.

And then other less polite expressions are spoken.

Davenport, Iowa

Otto Frederick Rohwedder was born in Davenport, Iowa. His first profession was a jeweler, but he longed to be an inventor. He sold his jewelry stores to finance that dream.

In 1917 a fire broke out in the factory where he was developing a machine to slice bread. Delayed but not dissuaded, ten years later he successfully developed a machine that both uniformly sliced and wrapped a loaf of bread.

Otto Frederick Rohwedder

Chillicothe Baking Company

The Chillicothe Baking Company was the first to buy his machine and on July 7, 1928 (incidentally his 48th birthday), the company sold its first loaf of sliced bread.

Sales of the machine to other bakeries increased and sliced bread became available across the country.


Of course, toast was part of American breakfasts already, but with the easy availability of sliced bread, toast became more and more popular and that demand led to an increase in the sale of, what else, toasters.

Wonder Bread

While Wonder Bread may have come to be associated with over-commercialized and less nutritious food, in 1930 the Continental Baking Company introduced its sliced bread.

Other companies followed, eager to find the same success as Continental’s.

By 1933 American bakeries produced more sliced than unsliced bread loaves.

Otto Frederick Rohwedder

Rohwedder died in Concord, Michigan on November 8, 1960. He was buried at Riverside Cemetery in Albion.

Otto Frederick Rohwedder

Bell Demonstrates Transistor Radio

Bell Demonstrates Transistor Radio

June 30, 1948
Bell Demonstrates Transistor Radio
Regency transistor radio

“Tiny Blue Transistor Radio” by Connie Smith. 

Is it a camera?

In the Exhibition Gallery of the Museum at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts is a display of sleeves for 45 rpm record and several transistor radios. On a tour that includes a young guest, I will ask them whether they know what they are–either of them.

Most times they seem to know, but there are, not surprisingly, times that a head shakes “No.”

In an obtuse way, I kiddingly refer to these radios as PLDs…Personal Listening Devices. The term my attempt at re-naming a product with a 21st century twist.

To that same young guest, I will ask them if they have a cell phone. Depending on the age they will nod “Yes” with a smile or “No” longingly. I ask those without one how old is someone now when they get their first cell phone? The answers vary, but by the age of 10, cell-phone ownership is common.

I’ll say to guests of all ages, “As much as a child today impatiently waits  for their first cell phone and all it brings with it, a Boomer waited with equal impatience for their first transistor radio.

Bell Demonstrates Transistor Radio

Portable Listening Device

The transistor radio was not the first “PLD.”  Tubed radios with large batteries existed, but were too heavy and bulky to actually be considered portable. They could be moved and put in a different place, but hanging out with friends at the park with one was simply too difficult.

The transistor radio changed all that. The transistor itself had been successfully developed by Bell labs in the mid-1940s [Wired article] As with any new invention, some scientists looked for other uses. On June 30, 1948 Bell Labs held a news conference at which they demonstrated a prototype transistor radio.

Bell Demonstrates Transistor Radio

Slow commercialization

A prototype is not a commercial product and it was still six years before a commercially viable transistor radio arrived. Two companies working together, Texas Instruments of Dallas, Texas [site] and Industrial Development Engineering Associates (I.D.E.A.) of Indianapolis, Indiana, were behind the unveiling of the Regency TR-1, the world’s first commercially produced transistor radio.  They made the announcement on October 18, 1954 and sales began in November. It cost $49.95, not inexpensive.

Competition and development brought down the cost, though one could never describe even the least expensive models as cheap.

Bell Demonstrates Transistor Radio

Steve & Bill

Whatever the price, the cultural impact was great. Apple’s Steve Wozniak stated, “My first transistor radio was the heart of my gadget love today. I loved what it could do, it brought me music, it opened my world up”

Microsoft’s Bill Gates stated, “Without the invention of the transistor, I’m quite sure that the PC would not exist as we know it today”

Bell Demonstrates Transistor Radio

Released Boomers

Transistor radio untied Boomer teenagers from their parent’s kitchen radio and their parent’s nearby ears. Boomers could listen to their music (at first only on AM radio) with their friends (or alone), wherever they wanted.

And as long as you had a wet tongue, you could test whether that 9-volt battery had any life left!

Bell Demonstrates Transistor Radio

Bell Demonstrates Transistor Radio