Where did the breadbox go?

Found in an old cabin

In American kitchens of the 1940s and 50s, in nearly every home, a breadbox sat on the countertop. I know in ours it did, as well as every neighbor, friend and family. Ours disappeared from the kitchen about 1961, never to be replaced.


Metal breadbox.  Manufacturer’s mark – none.

Circa: 1940 – 1960

Painted metal box divided by shelf into two compartments, each with a hinged door. Above the shelf the door opens upward, lower portion opens downward. At the shelf partition height the upper  half of box slopes backward at a 45 degree angle. Exterior sides painted yellow,  interior and front background off-white with bluebell flowers and wheat stalks as decoration. On each side are two circular patterns made of holes drilled by a small bit.

Size:  Length- 13″   Height – 11″    Depth at base – 11″    Depth at top – 7″

Use: bread storage/preservation. (For best humidity level about two loaves.)

Popular in the U.S. before preservatives and plastic wrap a good breadbox would:

  • Keep the contents at room temperature – prolong edible storage time.
  • Have a lid loose enough to allow air flow, reduce condensation – helps prevent mold.
  • Have a lid tight enough to keep out insect pests and mice.

Stale Bread – Stalling is a process when starch in contact with naturally occurring water in bread causes a retrogradation where the starch turns crystalline – enhanced by cool temperatures/refrigeration. Not to be confused with dry bread.

Early 1900s and before there was no way to preserve bread once it had been cut. In 1928 Otto Rohwedder invented the first machine to slice bread. The machine also wrapped the loaf in wax paper. In the late 1930s Wonder Bread invented it’s own bread slicing/wrapping machine. By the 1950s , Wonder Bread with the red, yellow and blue balloon packaging, enriched white flour and added preservatives was nationally recognized as an industry leader. Turns out all the extra preservatives and plastic wrapping are not good for people – or the planet.

There has been a renewed interest in fresh bread. Particularly for local bakeries in ethnic neighborhoods. Fresh bread is an integral part of the new cuisine internationally. Artisanal breads are now on the menu of fine dining establishments, popular at boutique coffee shops and available in some super markets. Marianne Rohlich wrote in April 2001 an article about kitchen technology: “Fresh bread with great crust and moist interior is back. The reason for a bread box is clear: Store one of those beautiful loaves in a plastic bag and it will turn into a tough hunk of foam overnight…..But left in a paper bag on the counter; it will dry out in a day or so. Bread has to breath for the crust to stay crisp, that is why it is suffocated in a plastic bag or the refrigerator.”

So where did the breadbox go? It was overruled by preservatives and plastic packaging. Are they making a comeback? There are a lot of rustic, retro and modern models available on line. Personally I don’t see where most folks have any space amongst the coffee pot, toaster, grinder, mixer, blender; et. al. for a breadbox on the counter. One thing though; the breadbox has no electric cord. It uses zero power. It just sits there and does what it was designed to do, keep bread fresh.

Breaking bread together can make friendships last. – Old Flemish saying.

Happy Trails, Dohn

About earthstonestation

promoting environmental education, protecting all species and preserving the wild places with art, music and storytelling.
This entry was posted in environment, food, health, history and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s