In Italian "ciabatta" evidently means slipper, I discovered. Some people don't get the connection, but I looked at my feet:
|Ciabbata bread (source with recipe )|
"July, 1982 ... at a mill in Adria, a town near Venice, a small band of dedicated flour experts talk dough. One of their number, Arnaldo Cavallari, a miller in his late forties, is especially excited. For years, Rome could only look on, horrified, as large-scale baguette imports from France threatened to monopolise the lucrative sandwich market in Italy. It was time to hit back with an equally commercially viable product. After weeks spent testing new dough mixes and bake-times, refining and adapting existing regional loaves and using his own mineral- and gluten-rich flour, Cavallari came up with Italy's very own dedicated snack bread. He called it Ciabatta Polesano. It was hailed as the bread that saved Italy, and rocked the sandwich world." (source)Ciabatta has its characteristic floppy shape because it is made from a very wet dough, invented by Cavallari. It's become a widely popular sandwich bread in Italy, England, and the US -- theoretically bakeries who use the name ciabatta have to license the name from his bakery, but I have no idea if they really do.
Some dispute Cavallari's claims to the invention of ciabatta. They suggest the existence of similar traditional loaves in various parts of Italy. However, there are no proofs of the name being used earlier, it seems. In 1992, the New York Times described ciabatta as a recently-introduced faddish bread in New York, mentioning its wide popularity in England, but not its history -- see "DE GUSTIBUS; So What if It Looks Like an Old Shoe? Ciabatta Is Loved" by Florence Fabricant.
That's about all I can find -- the Wikipedia article and the Food Timeline don't have anything else! So much for historic depth.