As you start to explore toaster history, you need to think about what defines a toaster. When were these features introduced and how did they change the way people made toast? Were these radical changes or has it largely stayed the same?
Toaster history is a particular interest for many and raises lots of fantastic questions about the source and style of the first toasters. As we work through each important step in toaster history, think about the complex journey our favorite piece of kitchenware took to bring you two buttered slices of white bread every morning.
Table of contents
- Toaster timeline
- Toaster prehistory
- The invention of the toaster
- Commercially available toasters
- The D-12 arrives
- Bread gets turned automatically
- Pop up and go
- Successful thermal sensors installed
See these quick facts from toaster history to help build a picture of the toaster’s past. These events will all be explored in detail below.
1893 – Alan McMasters invents the first electric toaster
1894 – Crompton Company begin to sell McMasters’ toaster as the “Eclipse”
1909 – The D-12 is invented
1915 – The Copeman Electric Stove Company invent the “automatic bread turner” toaster
1921 – The first pop up toaster is invented by Charles Strite
1925 – The first successful thermal sensor is used in the Model 1-A-1 Toastmaster
There are few other innovations in the history of the toaster. The elevator toaster was invented in the 1940s, but this self-lowering, self-raising toaster didn’t catch on. Aside from visual design and the plugs, very little has changed since the mid-20s in the history of the toaster.
Before we can talk about toaster history, we need to talk about toaster prehistory. Before the electric toaster came onto the scene, people would either hold pieces of bread above a fire with a fork or use a strange cage contraption to make their toast. The cage could be held over a fire or placed into an oven.
After the invention of the electric toaster, both of these methods fell out of favor, especially amongst the middle class in the UK. By the time electricity was widely available throughout the day, almost no one would have been using the more traditional methods.
The invention of the toaster
Alan McMasters, a Scottish inventor studying in Edinburgh, was the man who invented the first toaster. The Eclipse (as it would be marketed when mass-produced) was a simple piece of equipment that used cheap nickel elements to heat bread. This became known as nichrome when it was improved and mixed with chromium by Albert Marsh in 1905 when he developed a new toaster.
His contraption was positively a death trap by modern standards. It had no protective covering and you could see the elements hanging from a simple cage that would hold the bread. You had to turn the slice over by hand when it was cooked over on one side. You also had to remove the toast when it was done.
Although McMasters’ Eclipse looks dangerous to use now, it was the device that started a craze of toast lovers. Being able to quickly make a piece of toast was a great leap forward for science.
Commercially available toasters
Regardless of how out of date the Eclipse seems now, it was mass produced and sold by the Crompton Company. It wasn’t a commercial success and was eventually taken off the market when newer innovations quickly made McMasters’ invention irrelevant.
By the time the D-12 came along in America, the Eclipse was being overshadowed by other British products too.
The D-12 arrives
The first commercially successful electric toaster was the D-12, using the newly developed nichrome wire. This wire made it possible to cook for longer periods of time without breaking the element. This meant anyone could own a toaster without fearing that they would break it every time they cooked a slice.
Held up by a ceramic base, this device was safer than McMasters’ invention. Not only could the nichrome withstand long periods of electric current, but it also cooled quickly. Even in an oxygen rich environment, the heating elements wouldn’t just burn out.
Bread gets turned automatically
Now that the elements were more reliable, people started to focus on making the devices more useful in the home. The first innovation was the automatic bread turner. More like a commercial conveyor toaster than our modern domestic ones, it would lift the toast out of the holder and spin it around.
This jump forward meant that people could rely on the toaster without fearing that they would burn their hands. Up until this point, toasters were fairly dangerous to use. Over the next 10 years, the risk of injury from a toast would become practically nil (if used correctly).
Pop up and go
Charles Strite brought about the next great change to toaster history – the pop up mechanism. He is thought to have invented the pop up function in 1919, but he didn’t patent it in 1921. However, it still found great success and was commercially successful. Another innovation that meant people didn’t have to handle toast close to the elements.
It was around this time that the modern look of toasters started to appear. Strite’s own patented toaster looks very similar to a boxy appliance that you might use today. Although there was one last great leap forward, the average toast lover would be able to recognize a “modern style” in the toasters of the time.
Successful thermal sensors installed
The last great leap forward (that was successful) was in 1925 when the thermal sensor was finally installed in a toaster and worked at a commercial level. Now people could put their bread into the toaster and completely forget about it until it popped back up.
The most successful version of this device was the Model 1-A-1 Toastmaster. It combined all of the previous innovations and was commercially successful.
Due to the additional casing, this was now largely safe for the sensible user. What we now consider the modern toaster had been effectively invented in 1925, with only small or unsuccessful innovations coming after it. If we could plug a Model 1-A-1 Toastmaster into modern circuitry (we can’t, so don’t try!), we would be able to operate it much like a modern toaster.
Being an accurate toaster description means looking at the toaster timeline. Working out what changed and organizing our toaster facts helps us build a picture of the device we all love today. It is also surprising for many people just how little the toaster has changed in almost 100 years.
We have made the design more sophisticated, the electric feel more reliable, and the interface more user friendly, but the toasters of our time are basically the same as the Model 1-A-1 Toastmaster that was produced by the Waters Genter Company. Thinking that our humble toasters were once cutting-edge technology is an amazing thought.
Now you know the past of this wonderful device, you can enjoy all the modern conveniences that it brings. Just imagine how frustrating toasting might be without great minds like McMasters and Strite developing and innovating our kitchenware favorite.
FAQ – #Toaster History
Who invented the toaster?
Alan McMasters invented the toaster in 1893. It was subsequently commercially sold by the Crompton Company.
Who invented the pop-up toaster?
Charles Strite invented the pop-up toaster, supposedly in 1919. He didn’t file for a patent until 1921, however.
Did the toaster change much after the 1920s?
Small changes have been made to our toasters, such as slot size, cooking options, and energy efficiency. The basic shape and function is very similar to toasters produced in the 1920s.