Alan MacMasters is famous in very few circles. His achievements were mostly small, but they were long lasting. As well as the electrical kettle (a staple in every British home and workplace to this day), he also invented the electric toaster. Without Alan MacMasters, we might never have had the joys of cooking toast in such a convenient way.
He was a Scottish engineer who changed the way we make toast. No longer did people have to use a strange grill contraption in their ovens or over an open fire. Now they could simply pop in the toaster and wait a few minutes for a delicious snack.
Find out more about this famous Scotsman and his journey to creating two common household appliances. His new way of thinking gave us the chance to have a quick cup of tea and an even quicker slice of toast.
Table of contents
- Who invented the first-ever toaster?
- What year was the toaster invented?
- Why did Alan McMasters invent the toaster?
- Was MacMaster successful?
- Who invented the pop-up toaster?
- What would McMasters think of the toaster today?
Who invented the first ever toaster?
Alan McMasters was the inventor of the first ever toaster. The household appliance that would come to be called “the Eclipse” was invented by MacMasters after a brainwave when talking to a good friend of his, R. E. B. Crompton. Although it was a commercial failure, it set the stage for a range of fantastic and bizarre toaster devices in the 1900s.
R. E. B. Crompton was the owner of Crompton & Co., an electronics company that was spreading electricity through Britain as well as producing electronic devices that people could use. He would go on to sell the Eclipse, sadly at a loss. He was initially very keen on the project, but cancelled it after only a short time on the market.
It took McMasters 3 years to find the correct material for the element in the toaster. Although Edison had been able to use nickel to power light bulbs, MacMasters struggled. He couldn’t stop the nickel from breaking. In a light bulb, there is a vacuum. This meant that the nickel was less likely to snap. The toaster didn’t give it’s inventor such luxury.
After 3 years of testing, he settled on a thickness of nickel that could withstand most temperatures as well as consistent heating. This meant that toasters could be mass produced and used in homes without having to replace the element every time it was used. This was a huge leap forward for MacMasters’ product.
What year was the toaster invented?
MacMasters started to invent what would become the toaster in 1890. This would begin 3 years of struggle and experimentation before he would be able to say that he had invented the toaster.
With the finished product ready for mass-producing in 1893, R. E. B. Crompton (who had always encouraged him to invent the product) began to sell the Eclipse. It would be largely unsuccessful in a commercial sense.
Although MacMasters never made any great changes to the device himself, a range of different toaster products came out over the following years up until 1925 with the production of the thermal sensor and timer-equipped toaster. After this, the device became exceptionally popular and started to become a staple in people’s houses.
Why did Alan MacMasters invent the toaster?
The story of MacMasters’ invention of the toaster begins with a chat between MacMasters himself and Crompton. Although some think the events are partially fictitious, the events that followed the chat were certainly true.
When in Crompton’s home, MacMasters noticed a faulty lamp. Crompton admitted to using a cheaper element which allowed him to mass produce more of them. However, the element was so unsuitable for standard lamps, it would be unbearably hot to sit next to.
MacMasters supposably placed a piece of bread next to the lamp and the bread began to cook. This gave him the idea for the toaster. Crompton was always interested in cutting edge, new electrical technology, so invited MacMasters to work at his laboratory. This lead to years worth of study and experimentation.
The toaster was finally invented in 1893 and ready for mass production. Sadly, MacMasters’ toaster caused the first electrical fire death in Britain in 1894. Although he denied responsibility for the incident, it is thought that the events led to the rather unpopular reputation of the appliance.
Was MacMaster successful?
As a toaster inventor, not really. Although he did invent the machine and it was mass produced, it did not make a great deal of money.
Paired with the low availability of electrical power (usually only in the evenings) and the ability to buy the Eclipse, the toaster was invented just a little too soon to become a popular home device. As we can see with later iterations of the toaster, McMasters may have been able to make a lot of money if had invented it a few years later.
But MacMasters was also applauded at the time for inventing a new kind of lighting which was perfect for the gloomy trains of England and Scotland. He also invented the electrical kettle. Bearing these things in mind, MacMasters may not have succeeded with the toaster, but he did leave a legacy with a variety of products to his name.
Who invented the pop up toaster?
Seeing his own product fail probably did not warm Alan MacMasters to the success of the pop up toaster, patented by Charles Strite in 1921. As well as being an innovative piece of equipment, it also came in a shell – this protected the users from the elements as well as cut down on the risk of fires.
Strite said that he had invited the device in 1919, but it was not patented for another 3 years. Regardless, his clever innovative addition to the toaster has become an iconic part of cooking with a toaster. Many people would not be used to a toaster not popping up the toast these days!
What would MacMasters think of the toaster today?
Having died in 1927, MacMasters did actually live through the greatest developments of his device – namely; automatic turning, a pop up mechanism, and the thermal sensor. It is unknown how much he knew about each of these devices.
Changes to the toaster have been rather small since the 1920s, but the question of what MacMasters would think of toaster technology is a very interesting one. A toaster without a shell is unheard of today, but this is a radical departure from the Scotsman’s own design. Similarly, the growing use of technology with our toasters would surely have amazed him.
We can now implement screens, electronically programmed cooking times, and a range of modern improvements to the original great leaps forward in toaster design.
Although the toaster is mostly the same, seeing an engineer react to his own greatest work’s development might be top of the toaster geek’s historical wish list.
Alan MacMasters was a fairly unremarkable man who lived a short life dedicated to science. He invented the electric toaster and the electric kettle, yet few people would know his name. His growing reputation in Scotland as an inventor is only fair for an inventor who created two incredibly common items.
Although he lived through the greatest period of toaster innovation (including the invention itself, obviously!), we do not know what he thought of the variety of toasters that were available while he was alive. As most innovations happened in America, it is entirely possible he didn’t know about the technological advancements in the late 20s.
MacMasters also never really made any changes to his Eclipse toaster after he had released it through the Crompton Company. It would have been interesting to know if he had thought of ways to improve his product. All we do know is that he set off a wave of toaster technology and that Alan McMasters was the man who invented the first toasters.
FAQ - #Who invented the toaster
Was the first toaster dangerous?
Yes – it’s inventor, Alan McMasters, said that no one should leave it running unsupervised. One woman did in 1894 (one year after the toaster was released) and lost her life to a house fire. This is thought to have contributed to the poor reputation of the device.
When did the greatest changes to toaster technology take place?
The 1920s really changed the toaster from a dangerous device which left burning hot elements in the open air to a device which could be used safely at home with a range of modern conveniences (for the time). This included a pop up feature, the self turning mechanism, and a protective shell.
Did people eat toast before toasters?
Yes! Alan MacMasters didn’t invent an appliance and a delicious breakfast. People would generally hold a piece of bread over an open fire or use a grill like contraption in their ovens to toast bread.
What year was the toaster invented in?
1893 by Alan McMasters. It started to be mass produced in 1894 by the Crompton Company under the name of “The Eclipse”.