Slice of history lives on after Oliver Machinery Company burns down

Posted at 7:11 PM, Apr 13, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-22 08:36:25-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Tucked away on Clancy Avenue is what remains of the Oliver Machinery Company. The Grand Rapids building caught fire late last night. The wooden framework of the building still stands, a skeleton left over from Grand Rapids wood working history.

Built in the early 1900s the factory was built to feed the hungry woodworking needs of Grand Rapids' thriving furniture industry.

"It was designed initially to be a facility that produced high quality wood working machinery specifically for the furniture industry here in Grand Rapids," explains Matthew Daley industrial archeology professor at Grand Valley State University.

Furniture is not what set the factory in motion though, it was the horse and buggy. Daley says, "To make horses and buggies and so forth you need to be able to have pretty sophisticated cutting equipment to make and rearrange the wood. To really get the pieces curved and carved to fit together."

Today one might say the innovative precision cutting machines were the greatest thing since sliced bread, but pre-sliced bread was not around in the early 1900s. In fact, cutting up baked goods was how the company stayed afloat during the Great Depression a time when the furniture industry was suffering.

"To survive the company had to utilize it's abilities to innovate so they made a bread making system that would cut bread, just throw a loaf in," explains Daley.

Many local bakeries still use the Oliver Machinery Bread Slicer and the machines are popular throughout the country. Factor number one may be gone, but thanks to sliced bread a piece of its history will live on.