loaf of bread

The Wonder of Wonder Bread

Today’s cookbook is a souvenir Wonder Bread pamphlet from the 1934 World’s Fair. When I was a kid, I was always a bit envious of people who ate Wonder Bread. My mom usually bought whole wheat bread for our sandwiches. White bread fell into the category of junk food, along with overly sugared cereals. When we did have white sandwich bread, it was usually at my grandparent’s house. Slices of ripe garden tomato on white bread with mayo still brings a smile to my face.

Two children eating sandwiches

Wonder Bread has been on the market for over a century. The Taggart Baking Company of Indianapolis, Indiana, trademarked Wonder Bread in 1921.1 In 1924, the Continental Baking Company acquired Taggart along with several other large bakeries including the United Baking Company, the Ward Baking Company, the General Baking Company, the Fleishmann Company of New York, the American Baking Company of St. Louis, and the Grennan Bakeries of Detroit. George Barber, head of Continental Baking told the Associated Press “The business of baking bread and cakes looms brightly on the horizon of business enterprise. It should be attractive because 50 percent of all the baked goods consumed in the United States are still baked at home.” In other words, there was room to grow by displacing home baked goods.2

The proposed mergers raised concerns about a bread monopoly and led to a Federal Trade Commission investigation.3 Barber told the press that a baking monopoly was not possible because if a housewife “feels for any reason the baker does not live up to the obligations of baking the best loaf at the lowest possible price, then she can bake her own bread.”4 Ultimately, the merger was approved in 1925; Continental Baking Company owned 106 bakeries, making it the largest baking company in the world. They also now owned the Wonder Bread brand.

What made Wonder Bread so wonderful? In a 1929 newspaper advertisement, Continental Baking explains that Wonder Bread is made with double the usual amount of milk and a blend of soft Northwest spring wheat and hard Southwest winter wheat. The real secret is in the “slo-baking” process that produces a “delicate crisp crust” and “seal[s] in the delicious nut-like flavor of the wheat.” Continental took full credit for developing Wonder Bread. There’s no mention of Taggart’s earlier use of the brand and formulation in the ad.5

Headline from a full page wonder bread advertisement that appeared in several newspapers including the Washington, D.C. Evening Star, March 25, 1929.

The 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago provided the company another advertising opportunity. The Wonder Book of Good Meals was produced for the fair, likely as a free souvenir for those who visited the Wonder Bakery pavilion, although it may have had a wider distribution.

Back cover of The Wonder Book of Good Meals. The balloons in the upper right corner represent the Wonder Bread logo. Taggart Baking Company vice-president Elmer L. Cline came up with the tricolored logo in 1921 after seeing the International Balloon Race at the Indianapolis Speedway. 6

The Wonder Book of Good Meals highlights the many uses of Wonder Bread. Breakfast recipes include French toast, “Wonder Crullers,” and waffle toasted slices. Dinner recipes are designed to impress family and guests with recipes such as canapes, crouton garnished soup, and creamed fish in Wonder Bread cups. Breadcrumbs can coat meats, stuff roasts, or form the base of puddings and croquettes.

Faux doughnuts anyone? Note the reference to “slo-baking” in the breakfast description.

The last third of the book is dedicated to “The Witchery of Sandwiches.” “Witchery” according to the pamphlet, “means irresistible influence. There’s no doubt that sandwiches may be irresistible when well made.” The pamphlet offers several tips for making irresistible sandwiches such as using fresh bread and a generous amount of moist fillings. Fair goers could purchase sandwiches made from the book’s recipes at the “Wonder Sandwich Terrace” inside the Wonder Baking building.

In addition to general tips, the pamphlet includes sandwiches “to please a man’s taste.” The list recommends robust and flavorful fillings – onions, pickles, cured meats, strong cheeses. As the pamphlet explains, “In our zeal to feed men salads, don’t let’s forget how the masculine eye brightens at the sight of good Rye Bread Sandwiches.”

While “Wonder Crullers” and manly sandwiches may seem odd today, it’s important to remember that this pamphlet was published during the Depression. Many families had to stretch their food budgets. Sandwiches needed to be filling because the sandwich might be the entire meal. Bread doughnuts offered a quick and easy way to vary the menu. Recipes for main dishes recipes, such as “Wonder Meat Pie” (beef stew topped with toast) emphasized economy. Wonder Bread is touted as “very low-cost nourishment,” an important selling point during the Depression. Wonder Bread is a wonder because it stretches more expensive ingredients and provides nourishment for every meal of the day. As the pamphlet says, “Combine it with other foods as in these recipes, and you will have both economy and fine flavor.”

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