The word “baguette” was not used to refer to a type of bread until 1920, but what is now known as a baguette may have existed well before that date. The word, derived from the Italian bacchetta, simply means “wand”, “baton” or “stick”, as in baguette magique (magic wand), baguettes chinoises (chopsticks), or baguette de direction (conductor’s baton).
Though the baguette today is often considered one of the symbols of French culture viewed from abroad, the association of France with long loaves predates any mention of it. Long, if wide, loaves had been made since the time of King Louis XIV, long thin ones since the mid-eighteenth century and by the nineteenth century some were far longer than the baguette: “… loaves of bread six feet long that look like crowbars!” (1862); “Housemaids were hurrying homewards with their purchases for various Gallic breakfasts, and the long sticks of bread, a yard or two in length, carried under their arms, made an odd impression upon me.” (1898)
A less direct link can be made however with deck ovens, or steam ovens. Deck/steam ovens are a combination of a gas-fired traditional oven and a brick oven, a thick “deck” of stone or firebrick heated by natural gas instead of wood. The first steam oven was brought (in the early nineteenth century) to Paris by the Austrian officer August Zang, who also introduced Vienna bread (pain viennois) and the croissant, and whom some French sources thus credit with originating the baguette.