Sacramento, CA — Sad news swept across the baking industry this morning when the Wonder Bread family of products announced that its founder and honorary “chief baker” Arthur Wonder died. Mr. Wonder was surrounded by his family. He was 107.
“Mr. Wonder’s inspiring leadership throughout the years drove us to excellence,” said company spokesperson Bethany Millbright. “He always closed every company talk with his signature line, ‘Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.’
Before Wonder Bread’s founding in 1921, Arthur Wonder was a telecommunications worker working for an upstart telephone company called The American Telegraph and Telephone Company. Mr. Wonder spent his days stringing hundreds of feet of wire between poles and people’s homes in his native Chicago, Il.
However, it was a fateful and almost fatal accident that landed him in the bakery business.
On a warm, muggy July day, the young Authur busily strung copper wire from a telephone pole drop to a struggling baking company on Chicago’s south side. As he reached up to wrap the wire around what he thought was a telephone insulator, he began to smell a sour, yet familiar smell. It turns out Mr. Wonder had grabbed a 10,000-volt power line.
Seconds later, he found himself in a giant vat of bleached flour in the Continental Baking Company, having fallen from the pole, through a window, and into the bakery’s sifting area. The shock had incinerated all the hair off his body and left the thumbs on both hands inoperable. His hair never grew back.
Half-conscious, it was there that Mr. Wonder had a vision of mass-produced enriched bread products. Having secured $8,000 in loans, which was a fortune in those days, he purchased the baking company, rechristened it the Wonder Bread Baking Company. it was in these early days that the exuberant Arthur, having no baking or business experience, experimented with all kinds of bread products. And it was another accident that led to what many regard as his most famous invention: sliced bread.
“No one up until I started, thought of selling sliced bread. It was as obvious to me as having a left and a right shoe, but not to everyone. I like to tell people it was the jolt that got the bread to rise,” said the folksy Mr. Wonder in a 1998 History Channel biography on the baking pioneer. “And just to think, if that power line didn’t remove all of my hair and throw me into the sifter, I wouldn’t be talking to you fellas here.”
Children and Television
His business began to take off, but it wasn’t experiencing the growth he wanted. Then, in 1952, Authur had another jolt, this time a marketing one.
“Mr. Wonder understood the power of direct marketing,” continued Ms. Millbright. “He was the first to directly target children, whom he knew would love Wonder Bread. And the timing was perfect as television became popular.”
Mr. Wonder’s contribution to direct selling targeted at children set the standard for the next 60 years and led to profound company growth.
In 1960, Authur moved his company headquarters to Sacramento, CA where it still exists to this day. Throughout the years Arthur Wonder was known for his philanthropy, most famously for being an angel donor for the recent new home of the Sacramento Kings, the Golden 1 Center. Although the exact amount was never disclosed, Mr. Wonder donated an estimated $49 million to help complete the arena. Owners of the Kings suggested that the complex be named after Wonder, but he politely declined.
Arthur Wonder is survived by six children, 27 grandchildren, and 48 great-grandchildren, all of which were by his side at Mercy Hospital in Sacramento when he passed. His wife passed away in 2003 after an unfortunate and bizarre gardening accident. Being the ever-eccentric Wonder, he passed on a sizable inheritance to his pet ferret named Chihuahua and also over $100,000 to his favorite chihuahua, an ailing 20-year-old dog simply named ‘Dave.’ Ferrets are illegal pets in California.