The origin of the baguette is poorly documented and most versions offered are to some degree speculative. The word itself was not used at all to refer to a type of bread until 1920, but what is now known as "baguette" may have existed well before that. 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 Louis XIV with long thin ones appearing in the mid-eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century some were far longer than the baguette causing John L Boswell to exclaim "loaves of bread six feet long that look like crowbars!" in 1862. In his1898 work, European Reminicences, Louis Charles Elson commented: "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"
Some claim that the baguette is a descendant of the pain viennois, a bread first introduced from Vienna, Austria, towards the mid-19th century. However, this claim seems to be based on a misunderstanding. Though today's pain viennois is long and baguette-like, when first introduced into France, it was, basically, a Kaiser roll. Others claim, less precisely, that it was based on an existing Viennese bread. But no 19th century source confirms this link or the existence of any similar Austrian bread.
However, a less direct link can be made 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 the pain viennois (and the croissant) and whom some French sources thus credit with originating the baguette. Deck ovens use steam injection, through various methods, to create the proper baguette. The oven is typically well over 205 °C. The steam allows the crust to expand before setting, thus creating a lighter, more airy loaf. It also melts the dextrose on the bread's surface, giving a slightly glazed effect.
The "baguette de tradition française" is made from wheat flour, water, yeast, and common salt. It does not contain additives. While a regular baguette is made with a direct addition of baker's yeast, it is not unusual for artisan-style loaves to be made with a poolish, "biga" or other bread pre-ferments to increase flavor complexity and other characteristics, as well as the addition of whole wheat flour or other grains such as rye.
Baguettes are closely connected to France and especially to Paris, though they are made around the world. In France, not all long loaves are baguettes. For example, a short, almost rugby ball shaped loaf is known as a bâtard (literally, bastard), or a "torpedo loaf" in English (its origin is variously explained, but unsubstantiated). Tubular-shaped loafs can also be known as a flûte (a parisienne in the United States). Flûtes closely resemble baguettes and weigh more or less than them, depending on the region, and a thinner tube-shaped loaf can also be called a ficelle (string). As with the baguette itself none of these are officially defined either legally or in major dictionaries. French breads are also made in forms such as a miche, which is a large pan loaf, and a boule, (literally ball in French),which is a large round loaf. Sandwich-sized loaves are sometimes known as demi-baguettes, tiers, or "Rudi rolls".