4.25.2021

“The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread”

My grandpa, Clarence “Conny” Scheer, drove a route for Bishoff Bakery of Bigfork in the mid-1930s.  One of his favorite stories to tell about that job was that’s how he started courting Hellen McQuillen, my grandma. He made a delivery to the tavern owned by Len and Irene Knotts in Effie. Hellen was staying there for the summer, following her first year of teaching, to help her sister. 

The Taggert Baking Company of Indianapolis, Indiana, introduced Wonder Bread in May 1921.  Weighing a pound and a half, Wonder Bread boasted an even texture, and soft crusts. It was sold only in Indianapolis until 1924 when the company was purchased by Continental Baking.  In 1930, Wonder Bread became America’s first sliced bread, hence the phrase “the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

Slow Start in Deer River

When there are enough patrons to make it profitable, a bakery is established in a town. Or. maybe in the case of Deer River, attempted. The first mention of a bakery in Deer River was in 1908 when the Itasca News stated that “Mrs. Hanna Gray, who was to open a bakery in the Bond house, has given up the proposition, being unable to make a satisfactory deal for the property with Mr. Ingersoll, who now owns the place.” Obviously, the villagers were interested and were pleased when Mr. Jackson arrived in September of the same year. Mr. Jackson claims to be a first-class baker and seeing the amount of trade awaiting him, he is anxious for the moving of Tellin Brothers from the market building, as he will occupy that space.  He expects to open his shop in a week or ten days.”

Small retail businesses didn’t need to advertise unless there was competition, so it is not clear how long Mr. Jackson was in business.  The 1910 United States Census lists Herbert J. Jackson as age 30 and employed at the cedar mill. If it is the same person, perhaps the position at the mill was more lucrative or the hours more to his liking. Or maybe he was still in business and the bakery, detailed below, was a second one in the village with a very short life.

“The Misses Rose Voigt and Emily LaFreniere have opened a bakery of the ‘home’ kind in the laundry building near the Everton Hotel.  They have been turning out good baking for several days and the patrons say their work is very nice.  The girls are receiving a good patronage and say they cannot keep up with their orders.” [Itasca News 9-17-1910]

“Evidently, bearing out the rule that young people cannot withstand success or much prosperity, Misses Emily LaFreniere and Rose Voigt have given up their undertaking of conducting a bakery.  The girls were in business about two weeks and were receiving orders for more goods than they could make.  They have simply quit and any other reason for doing so is not given out.” [Itasca News 10-8-1910]

City Bakery 1911~1928

In 1911, Andrew and Julia Binder moved from Duluth where they had owned and managed a successful bakery.  It isn’t clear what brought them to Deer River, but the village and surrounding community were glad they came.  When Mr. and Mrs. Binder opened City Bakery, they planned to stay.

Andrew immigrated from Germany in about 1890. Two years later Julia followed him from Germany, and they married.  Their only child, Florence, was born in Duluth in 1899. Florence helped her parents in the bakery from a young age.

When the United States entered the First World War, bakeries were greatly impacted. The main ingredients flour and sugar were restricted to ensure the soldiers were properly fed.  The Federal Food Administration encouraged bakeries to advertise their product as Victory Bread if it contained not more than 80 per cent wheat flour.  No stipulation was made as to what ingredients should compose the other 20 per cent so long as they are selected from a list which included corn flour and corn meal, barley flour, graham, buckwheat, oatmeal, rice and rice flour, potato flour, etc.

City Bakery’s First War Bread ~ Itasca News 1-26-1918

“War Bread, or what is called Deer River’s first sample of war bread, has been on sale at the City Bakery for the past week, and the public is in ecstasy over it.  The bread is made in the shape of twin loaves, weighing two pounds each and sells for 15 cents.  The local shop makes it in two forms, in pans and on brick bottoms.  The patrons seem to prefer the brick baked style. 

“Baker A.J. Binder admits this is not the real thing in the war bread brand, as it is made of baker’s flour, not the real war flour, however the ingredients are on the conservation order as no lard nor milk is used, but instead of these, potatoes are use in the recipe.  The bread is lasting and slightly a heavier food than the regular baker’s bread. When the present supply of white flour is exhausted, which will be in but a few months, the new war flour will be the best flour on the American market and then we will get the real war bread.”

Families were also encouraged to prepare at home, foods that they had previously bought at a bakery. An advertisement for Royal Baking Powder gave the following recipe for Oatmeal Bread.  It appeared in the March 23, 1918 Itasca News.

Oatmeal Bread

1 cup flour

2 ½ cups corn meal

1 tsp salt

5 tsp Royal Baking Powder

2 T sugar

1 cup cooked oatmeal or rolled oats

2 T shortening

2½ cups milk

No eggs

Mix together flour, corn meal, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Add oatmeal, melted shortening, and milk.  Bake in round shallow pan in moderate oven 40-45 minutes.

If used three times a week in place of white bread by the 22 million families in the United States, it would save more than 900,000 barrels of flour a month.

The Royal Baking Company published a pamphlet, “Best War Time Recipes” available by request, which contained four dozen recipes like the Oatmeal Bread, to encourage families to save wheat for the soldiers. 

City Bakery weathered the restrictions and, after the war, supported the community that had become their home. The Binders advertised in the Deer River newspapers, first for occasional specials and then a general weekly ad. It seems they always had butter rolls, cookies, pies and cakes.  Some of the specialty items were cream puffs, rocks, raised doughnuts, bismarks, coffee cake, honey cream cake, angel food cake and loaf silver cake.  One year during the Itasca County Fair, they featured turnovers, butterflies, cinnamon rolls, and sunshine cakes.

In 1926, Deer River had a huge 4th of July celebration and the Binders worked long hours to ensure everyone was well-fed.

The Bakery was Busy ~ Deer River News7-8-1926

“The big celebration Monday brought a lot of people here to be fed, and for several days the latter part of the week the City Bakery was the busiest place in Deer River.  In addition to the regular trade with greatly increased baking of bread, the proprietors and help made 343 dozen buns, 160 dozen doughnuts and 194 Pullman sandwich loaves.  That’s 6,230 extra pieces, a good index to what it took to feed the crowd.

“Mr. and Mrs. Binder showed a fine spirit by selling to public concessions at wholesale as a contribution to the community effort.  We didn’t hear of any outside bakery doing anything like that, which proves again that we should boost the hometown product, the one that helps boost us.”

Two years later, Andrew and Julia having both celebrated their 60th birthday, decided they were ready to turn the business over to another baker.  Their daughter Florence, a music teacher in the community, wanted to be in a more populated setting.  The 1930 U.S. Census shows the Binder family living in Minneapolis.

City Bakery Sold to Hibbing Man ~ Itasca News 6-21-1928

“A deal was closed yesterday whereby one of Deer River’s oldest business institutions becomes the property of a new proprietor.  The City Bakery was sold by Mr. and Mrs. Binder to Anton Suomalainen of Hibbing.  Possession will be given the 1st of July.

“Mr. Suomalainen is not a stranger to Deer River.  For several years he conducted a bakery in Grand Rapids, selling out there last winter.  While in business at the county seat, Mr. Suomalainen supplied regular customers here, and his entry into the local field will find an established reputation.

“Mr. and Mrs. Binder have been in business here for the past seventeen years.  They came here from Duluth.  Under their management, the City Bakery built up a most enviable reputation for the excellence of its products, always clean and wholesome.  The host of friends who are numbered by their acquaintances, will regret to learn that the Binders have sold, and also regret to have this most estimable family leave Deer River, but will wish them many years of health, wealth and happiness.”

Other Owners

Mr. Suomalainen renamed the business, New Home Bakery, and all was well until he was injured the following spring.  “Anton Suomalainen, proprietor of the New Home Bakery, last Friday received a serious injury to one of his hands, which became caught in the machinery of the bread mixer.  The fingers were badly lacerated, and amputation of portions may be necessary.  Mr. Suomalainen went to Duluth for an X-ray examination and surgical treatment and is reported as getting along nicely.” [Deer River News 5-16-1929]

New Home Bakery struggled during the time Mr. Suomalainen was healing, and by August, he had no choice but to close. Within several weeks of that decision, a new owner was found. “R.W. Ziebell of Duluth has taken over the plant and announces that he will be open, ready for business next Wednesday, Sept 25.  Mr. and Mrs. Ziebell were in Deer River yesterday with Mr. and Mrs. Suomalainen, who have operated the bakery for the past year. Mr Ziebell stated that he has spent all his life in the bakery business, working for years in large baking plants of Minneapolis and Duluth.  He has frequently visited Deer River and is a great booster for this region.

“The reopening of the bakery will be welcome news to all local people.  During the time it has been closed the past fortnight, local residents have suffered a great inconvenience.  Mr. Ziebell was looking for a residence yesterday and hoped to be able to move his family here the latter part of the week.” [Deer River News 9-19-1929]

I am not sure how long the Ziebells had the bakery, but I do know that the name, New Home Bakery, was still being used in 1938. A receipt (see inset) indicates the Skottegard’s were owners, and had filled an order for

Williams Narrows Resort. According to the 1930 and 1940 U.S. censuses, the Skottegards were proprietors of a bakery in Grand Rapids but obviously had the one in Deer River as well.

The final notes I have on the local bakery are sketchy, as most of my research ends before WWII, but I do know there was a bakery owned by Tom Abbott for several years, which he sold to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hallgren of Chicago.  “Mr. and Mrs. Hallgren have operated bakeries for the past seven years and know their business thoroughly.  They plan to conduct the business on a basis of the best bakery products and the best service they can give.

“Mr. and Mrs. Hallgren are not entirely strangers in Deer River.  They have a summer home on Moose Lake, and for the past three years have been spending their summers here.  Associated with them will be Mrs. Carl Jette and Mrs. Erika Jette of the Moose Lake territory.” [Deer River News 2-10-1944]

2 Comments

  1. This is very interesting. There’s a lot of story behind a simply bakery. I enjoyed all of the stories. The Wonder Bread information made me laugh. My grandpa didn’t like that bread and he didn’t like sliced bread. My grandmother baked bread once or twice a week.

    Like

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