Who Invented the Toaster, and When? (History)
Alan MacMasters¹ invented the first electric toaster in 1893. The device was called Eclipse Toaster, and The Crompton Company manufactures it in Britain. However, since it only toasted one side, you’d have to flip the bread over to toast the other side too.
It’s safe to say that toasters were groundbreaking inventions that changed our lives. Although the first electric pop-up toaster was invented later in the 20th century, the history of toasters and toasting began way before this invention. Read more about the history of toasters and where they are today.
Toasting Bread in the Early Days
Originating from the Latin word “tostum,” toast means to burn or scorch. Early civilizations have nearly always toasted bread, but not because they craved a crunch as we did. Instead, they placed bread over an open fire to prevent mold growth¹.
Other than that, people used to toast bread on hot stones before a fire, allowing them to toast multiple slices at once. Later records indicate the invention of simple devices to toast bread over open fires. That includes sticks to impale the bread and toast it like a marshmallow.
Toast Until the 18th Century
Although people had invented wireframes to toast bread over open fires, the progression of toasters still had a long way to go. Besides metal frames, people also created long-handled toasting forks to hold over kitchen grills and toast bread like a marshmallow.
By the 16th century, long-handled toasting forks became the norm for toasting. In the 17th century, the Scottish began using wrought-iron scroll-ornamented toasters. These toasters allowed them to print designs onto their toasts.
The 18th century brought these wrought-iron scroll-ornamented toasters to England in updated forms, allowing them to rotate the machine for even toasting. By the end of the 18th century, America was introduced to bread-toasting utensils.
Early Toasters in the 1800s
There wasn’t much progress for toasters until the late 19th century when wood and coal stoves arrived in America. These stoves called for a new toasting method, resulting in the invention of a tin and wire pyramid-shaped device in the 1880s.
Direct fire was originally the only way to toast bread for the rest of this decade. That is, until 1893, when Alan MacMasters invented the first electric toaster in Scotland.
Pop-Up Toasters in the 1900s
The main problem with toasting devices until the 1900s was finding the correct heating elements to reach a red-hot temperature without leaving the bed too brittle. Some suggested using the recently invented incandescent light bulbs by Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison, which required a vacuum. Luckily, an engineer solved the problem of heating elements in the next few years.
In 1905, Albert Marsh solved the heating element issue by designing nichrome¹, an alloy of nickel and chromium. With the help of his invention, wires and strips with low electrical conductivity could be forged. This led to the creation of successful electric toasters.
While Alan McMaster is famous for his invention of the electric toaster, it’s worth noting that his device was unsuccessful. Instead, Frank Shailor¹ of General Electric was the first to introduce a successful electric toaster in the form of the GE model D-12 in 1090.
This cage-like device had a single heating element, allowing to toast only one side of the device at a time and requiring the user to flip the slice by hand. However, the GE model D-12 was primarily used in restaurants since most homeowners in the early 1900s did not have access to electric power.
It’s worth noting that electric power was so scarce in that period that it wasn’t even available during daylight hours. So, it’s safe to say that having an electric toaster at home was considered a luxury in the early 20th century.
By the 1910s, everyone was looking for more ways to reduce manual labor, which led to electric companies offering 24-hour services. That allowed toaster manufacturers to release better models, such as ones with sliding drawers. It also included mechanical ways to flip the slice of bread.
In addition, Lloyd Groff Copeman¹ and his wife attempted to patent various toasters in 1913. Meanwhile, the Copeman Electric Stove Company released a toaster with an automatic bread tuner. That ended the decades-long safety hazard of flipping bread by hand since all prior toasters could only toast one side at a time. However, it wasn’t until 1919 that toaster users saw some real change in the device.
Charles Strite introduced the first automatic pop-up toaster¹ by the end of the 1910s. It incorporated a shut-off timer and pop-up springs to release the bread once toasted. This device became a commercial hit, eliminating nearly all manual labor required for toasting bread.
1920s – 1940s
As the 1920s began, Charles Strite patented his automatic pop-up toaster. Soon after, the Waters-Genter Company released a redesigned version of his invention in 1925. It was named the Model 1-A-1 Toastmaster.
This model became the first electric pop-up household toaster to toast both sides of the bread simultaneously and be distributed commercially. By the end of the following year, the Model 1-A-1 Toastmaster became available for public purchase.
The Sunbeam Radiant Control toaster models were used from the 1940s through the 80s. They offered features such as automatic lowering and rising of the toast. Most described these models as “elevator toasters.”
1970s – 1990s
As we mentioned, the Chares Strite model was a success but had one issue. The advertisements for the toaster guaranteed a perfectly brown toast every time, but that was only true for the first toast at a time. After that, the rest of the toasts came out much darker.
Luckily, this issue was solved in the late 1970s when Robert J. Salem¹ of General Electric Company patented a temperature sensor for toasters, guaranteeing golden brown toasts every time.
The 1980s popularized the Sunbeam Radiant Control toasters, utilizing the resistance wire’s mechanically multiplied thermal expansion to raise or lower the bread. Placing the bread in the toaster triggers the activation of the heating elements. That begins the thermal expansion to lower the bread.
Simon Hackett and John Romkey invented the Internet Toaster¹ in the 1990s, allowing users to control their toaster from the internet.
Today, we have the luxury of smart toasters, including screens that allow us to pick between various toasting options for different types of bread. It’s easy to assume that toasters were invented no earlier than the 1950s, but these genius inventions have a long history dating back much further.
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