Inventor Joseph Lee, born in Boston in 1845, began working in a bakery as a young boy. This marked the beginning of a lifetime spent making food. Lee became a talented cook and manager, eventually running his own restaurants, a Newton hotel, a South Shores resort and a catering service, the Lee Catering Company.
Somewhat bizarrely, we seem to have a much better collective memory for the unusual and sometimes odd invention than for the practical one. So that, these days, it’s the solution Lee came up with to one particular problem that seems to have attached itself to his name above the rest on his handy gadgets. This may be, in part because, as the Los Angeles Times reported in 1902, Lee was reticent to share with his nineteenth century patrons that a machine had been kneading their dough in his kitchens, however well it performed.
Finally though, Lee had become frustrated with the amount of bread thrown away each day in the food services industry. He disliked wasting day-old bread and knew he could find a use for these leavings. He began using old bread to replace cracker crumbs in his own dishes. And soon, to produce the quantities of bread crumbs he desired, he invented a labor-saving device, patenting an automated bread-shredding device in 1895. Powered by a crank, the machine efficiently reduced old bread to crumbs.
Manufactured by the Royal Worcester Bread Crumb Company of Boston, to whom Lee sold his invention, this machine soon became a staple of restaurant kitchens around the world.
Shortly before his death, Lee would go on to patent a mechanical bread-maker in 1902, the basis for the modern bread machine.