Electric toasters – The first one “popped up” in 1893 in Scotland

Toasting bread is an old practice found in ancient civilizations. Egyptians were known to toast their bread in order to prevent mold growing on it.

The Romans borrowed this practice from Egypt around 500 BC. As they invaded the continent, they passed on the routine of bread toasting.

The British picked up the idea around 44 AD and the first travelers that came to settle in America took it with them.

Before the appearance of the electric toaster, a metal frame or a toasting fork with a long handle would be used to hold the sliced bread near a fire.

The first electric toaster was invented in 1893, in Scotland, by a Scottish scientist called Alan MacMasters.

His invention was called the Eclipse and was commercialized by Crompton, Stephen J.Cook & Company. Mainly because of the iron wiring, which was prone to melting and was thus a fire hazard, the first electric toaster lacked commercial success.

Nevertheless, the Eclipse toaster paved the road for future models. The heating element problem was solved in 1905 when Albert Marsh created Nichrome, a resistance heating alloy.

General Electric Model D-12 toaster, 1910s.

The first electric toaster to be commercially successful was the “D-12” patented by Frank Shailor in 1909 and produced by General Electric.

The problem with this early model was that when the toast was done on one side, someone had to manually turn it.

The “toaster that turned toast” was invented by Lloyd Groff Copeman and introduced in 1915 by the Copeman Electric Stove Company.

Toaster, Universal, Model E947, c. 1915.

The American inventor, Charles Perkins Strite is credited with inventing the pop-up toaster.

Trying to find a solution for the burned toast served in the cafeteria where he worked, he integrated a timer and springs in his device and applied for a patent in 1919.

He received the patent two years later and formed his Waters Genter Company. The company released a redesigned version of Strite’s toaster under the name of “Toastmaster” in 1926.

This model was the first automatic pop-up household toaster and was a huge success.

Universal Swing Toaster, c. 1928.

A true game changer in the evolution of the toaster was another brilliant invention – sliced bread.

Otto Frederick Rohwedder designed a machine in 1928 that not only sliced bread but also wrapped it. Two years later the sliced Wonderbread appeared on the market as a product of the Continental Baking Company.

In 1933, for the first time ever, American bakeries produced more sliced bread than unsliced loaves. The standardized slices of bread increased the sale of Strite’s pop-up toasters and they became a common item in the household.

Edison – General Electric Hotpoint Toaster, 1932, designed by Raymond E. Patten.

Sunbeam Products launched a toaster in the 1940s where a principle called “radiant control” was used.

This meant that a sensor is activated by the heat from the bread’s surface and not from the heating element; when the bread reached the temperature of 154°C, the sensor would automatically turn off the heating element.

This meant that regardless of the initial color or temperature of the bread (if it was frozen for example), it would be toasted to the same degree.

Proctor Toaster, c. 1940.

In the 1970s, progress in the development of heat resistant plastics allowed the benefit of variety in design of toasters. New models with rounded sides and in a number of different colors hit the market.

Toasters now featured wider toasting slots making them suitable for thicker bread or other food like bagels. The number of slots was also increased, there were models that could toast up to six slices at once.

Rowenta Toaster, ca.1950. Author: Phrontis. CC BY-SA 3.0

Although it was invented some time ago, the toaster has not undergone major changes in structure since its early days.

But there were a number of curious projects in the 1990s and 2000s, where advanced technology was combined with a toaster.

Toaster, ca. 1950/60s, German Democratic Republic, Red bakelite, glass, polished steel. Author: Brechtsbaal. CC BY-SA 3.0

In the 1990s, a toaster that could be controlled from the internet was introduced. The same decade saw the creation of the talking toaster; the user could talk to it and say how he likes his toast done.

Toaster “Hageka” made by Elektro-Maschinen-und Gerätebau Hans-Georg Krüger KG, 1970s. Author: Christos Vittoratos. CC BY-SA 3.0

Another model had color sensors so it could provide the user with the preferred shade of brown. The toaster is one of the most common home appliances and it has been helping make our breakfast for more than a century.