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Design Icon: Wonder Bread

by Maxwell Tielman


Design: Wonder Bread

Date: 1921

Country of Origin: United States

Manufacturer: Taggart Baking Company

Background: You know the phrase “the best thing since sliced bread?” Well, as it so happens, the exact date of this world-changing invention is in relatively recent history. Introduced by Wonder Bread in 1929, the concept of pre-sliced bread encapsulated many of the ideals of the time. The late 20s and early 30s saw the introduction of Modernism to America, largely through the over-the-top ornamentalism of the Art Deco and Moderne movements—it wasn’t so much about functionality, but the novel and the superficially futuristic. Scientific and industrial advances had captured the nation’s imagination, something that created a thirst for products that embodied these ideaseven if that product was bread, pre-sliced. Since then, Wonder Bread has become part of the the American canon, the embodiment of the American impulse for wild innovation and an icon of our Atomic Age. In 1939, Wonder Bread took part in New York City’s World’s Fair, an event that showcased similarly futuristic productions, from advances in agricultural technology to the latest and greatest in automobiles. Although it may not seem this way today—indeed, we have long-since abandoned the fluffy white goodness of Wonder Bread for healthier options—Wonder Bread (and its mythology) fit in perfectly.

Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg.

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  • I’m sorry to say that your BACKGROUND section is really confusing. Art Deco is over-the-top only if you compare it to later art movements – it was actually Victorian/Edwardian excess pared way back and functioned completely within its own time. Moderne was streamlined functionality, more about “form follows function” than superficiality. And being novel is what Modernism was all about. I think maybe you are confusing these with Futurism?

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