The year was 1949. Because of World War II, there hadn’t been a nationwide baking exposition in the US since 1936. Baking, like nearly every other American industry that faced wartime privations, was ready for change. It got it at the first baking show to be regularly sponsored by the American Bakers Association (ABA) and BEMA, Bakery Equipment Manufacturers and Allieds.

Although Baking Expo ’49 marked the first such assembly in the modern era, the idea of showcasing industrial progress can be traced back to London’s Great Exposition of 1851. Its success spawned more such events including the Boston Food Show held in October 1897. The Boston gathering saw the formation of the National Association of Master Bakers, the forerunner of ABA. Since the 1920s, bakers attended periodic baking trade meetings at Atlantic City, Chicago and Buffalo, NY, before settling on Atlantic City for shows between 1930 and 1977.

New technology has always been a hallmark of these events. The 1922 gathering demonstrated a traveling oven and displayed proofers and mechanical wrapping machines. Mechanized bread slicers were the buzz of the 1936 show.

Now it was 1949, and bakers got their first look at continuous mix technologies for cake and bread. They also saw automatic scales, metering devices, temperature controls and recording mixers, along with the first commercial-quality aluminum foil pans. The brown ’n serve process was introduced. Enrichment of flour and breads with vitamins and minerals, a temporary wartime measure, become mandatory, and those ingredient suppliers exhibited at the 1949 show for the first time.

Every six years

With the next Baking Expo in 1955, the show settled into a six-year cycle of events at Atlantic City. The pattern held steady for the 1961, 1967, and 1973 expositions. So did the pace of technical progress.

Innovations in bulk flour handling and formulation of new flour mixes took center stage at the 1955 show. Bakers saw the first continuous dough pump and a continuous mix system designed for pan bread production. Exhibitors featured other state-of-the-art systems: automated batching stations capable of handling up to 30 ingredients, liquid ferment methods and automatic pan stackers and unstackers.

Automation revolutionized the industry in the 1960s. New at Expo ’61 were high-speed English muffin lines, packaging and labeling machines, and an automatic proofer that practically eliminated manual handling. Plastic delivery trays and sanitation bins also made their debut, along with refrigerators and freezers engineered specifically for supermarket in-store bakery operations.

The Food and Drug Administration approved calcium lactylate as a food additive for breadmaking right before bakers gathered for Expo ’61, and that dough conditioner debuted there. Polyethylene films started to replace cellophane wraps, and several packaging systems featured “soft film” conversion options.

Automated production, packaging and labeling equipment continued to dominate changes seen at the 1967 gathering. Bake-off, as a production method, arrived in full force, with frozen dough products and the equipment to thaw and hold them. Rack ovens were introduced. Visitors saw the very first spiral cooler: a coiled conveyor handling donuts. By the time Expo met again, spiral conveyors would tower over several booths, providing options for cooling, proofing and freezing.

Nascent automation

Improved processing methods have always been front-and-center at Expo. With the 1973 show, the event moved to an every-four-years schedule, and new ideas kept pouring in. A unique depositor that simultaneously cut and filled ring-style cake donuts made a big splash, as did pneumatic pre-mixing of batched ingredients. The 1973 show also saw the first wholesale baking application for microwave energy as a secondary heat source for donut proofing and frying. UPC codes were introduced along with bar code printers.

Dominating ingredient innovations were combination dough strengthener/crumb softeners, plus a growing array of choices in variety bread bases, concentrates, mixes and licensed loaves.

A fuel supply crisis, caused in the late 1970s by the political and economic ambitions of oil-producing nations in the Middle East, affected the fuel needs of bakery operations. Bakers gathering for the 1977 exposition, the last to be held in Atlantic City, found many exhibitors introducing ovens and fryers with propane and fuel oil options as alternatives to natural gas and electricity.

Baking Expo ’77 also saw the advent of high-fructose corn syrup and fluid shortenings for bread. A key change in pastry processing, introduced here was the multi-roller method for gently, but swiftly, reducing laminated doughs.

Expo timeline

2013 marks the 16th Baking Expo, now called the International Baking Industry Exposition, of the modern era.

1949 — Oct. 15-20, Atlantic City

1955 — Oct. 1-5, Atlantic City

1961 — Oct. 7-12, Atlantic City

1667 — Oct. 7-12, Atlantic City

1973 — Oct. 13-18, Atlantic City

1977 — Oct. 8-13, Atlantic City

1981 — Oct. 2-6, Las Vegas

1985 — Nov. 8-12, Las Vegas

1989 — Sept. 15-19, Las Vegas

1993 — Sept. 30-Oct. 4, Las Vegas

1997 — Sept. 22-26, Las Vegas

2001 — Sept. 10-14, Las Vegas

2004 — Aug. 15-18, Las Vegas

2007 — Oct. 7-10, Orlando

2010 — Sept. 26-29, Las Vegas

2013 — Oct. 6-9, Las Vegas