|A toaster works by applying radiant
heat directly to a bread slice. When the bread's surface
temperature reaches about 310 degrees Farenheit, a chemical change
known as the
Maillard reaction begins. Sugars and starches start to
caramelize -- turn brown -- and to take on intense flavors.
With more heating, the sugars and underlying grain fibers start turning into carbon.
That's burnt toast.
--From a Consumer Reports test on toasters, June 1990
|As stated above, toast is made by applying radiant heat to a
slice of bread. This is easily done with fire, but creating an
electrical device to toast bread presented quite a challenge.
Alluded to in the Introduction ,
something special had to be invented in order for the electric
toaster to exist - and that something was a wire that could be
heated quickly to a red-hot temperature, and to be able to do this
repeatedly without burning out or becoming brittle and
Thomas Edison worked long and hard to find an durable element wire that could heat to red-hot in the vacuum of a light bulb - the toaster needed an element that could function in open air.
Of course there were other possibilities for such a wire - an instant heat source wherever one had electricity for example - and many companies and individuals were involved in the search.
In March, 1905 a young engineer named Albert Marsh applied for a patent on an alloy of nickel and chromium, which came to be known as Nichrome. In his patent application Marsh described this alloy as having:
"...the properties of being very low in electrical conductivity, very infusable, non-oxydizable to a very high degree, tough and sufficiently ductile to permit drawing or shaping it into wire or strip to render it convenient for use as an electrical resistance element."
The First Electric Toaster (UK)?
Before addressing toaster that used Nichrome, it should be noted that there is an English model that is widely cited as being the first electric toaster - the Eclipse (shown in illustration at right). Curt Wohleber succinctly sums up what is known about this toaster and the company that made it in the Fall 2005 issue of Invention & Technology:
"A British firm, Crompton & Company, unveiled an electric toaster as early as 1893. Not much is known about that, but around the same time, Crompton also sold an electric space heater that used iron wires as heating elements. These had an unfortunate tendency to rust, melt, and start fires, and Crompton's electric toaster may have had similar drawbacks. Moreover, electric power was not yet widely available, and then often only at night, as households used electricity almost exclusively for lighting. Whatever its flaws may have been, the Crompton toaster was certainly premature."
The First Electric Toaster (US)
Back to Marsh and Nichrome... - with the necessary heating element now in existence, when did the first electric toaster appear? Only two months after Marsh applied for his patent on Nichrome, George Schneider, working for the American Electric Heater Company of Detriot, submitted a patent application for an enclosed toaster using a "suitable resistence wire" -- it is thought that he knew Marsh. We know of no example of this toaster, and are not certain that it was ever produced.
There must have been a number of prototype electric toasters made
by companies and garage inventors alike in these early years, but
it wasn't until 1909 that the first successful electric toaster was
produced. In July, 1909, Frank Shailor of General Electric
submitted his patent application for the D-12, considered
the first commercially successful electric toaster.
|Above is shown the patent drawing for the first version of the
D-12. The D-12 had three incarnations, the first had high-sided
baskets to hold the bread and it was a bit tricky to remove the
toast from the hot toaster. The second version used fewer metal
rods to make up the framework of the toaster - it kept the high
sided baskets but made the ends open so one could push the toast
out more easily. The third version, shown below , lowered
the sides making inserting and removing bread much easier. All had
ceramic bases that came in various degrees of decoration - plain
white, white with gold accent, white with floral garland
|Note that the plugs for the D-12 above and the Simplex toaster
shown below are made to be screwed into a socket. When houses began
being outfitted for electricity, it was done most commonly through
an overhead light or in a wall sconce - it was a while before wall
outlets became commonplace.
Read an article about Simplex.
|Simplex T-211 -- Another very early toaster (patent filed 1909) by the Simplex Electric Heating Co. of Boston. Has ceramic base and removable doors.||
|General Electric model X-2 -- Design
patent date: November 9, 1915. Perhaps just made in experimental
This toaster is WANTED!
|The Thermax model E1942 , made by Landers,
Frary and Clark from c. 1915. Thermax was a secondary trade
name used by Landers, Frary & Clark, their primary trade name
This toaster is WANTED!
|The American Beauty Toaster, from the late teens. Toast rack on toaster not original: at some point an owner of this toaster decided he/she liked having a toast rack on top of the unit, and so one was installed.|
|The TOASTOVE -- from c. 1910, by the Hoskins
Manufacturing Co. of Detriot. Many of the early manufacturers made
their appliances to be multi-use, and so there are a number of
This toaster is WANTED!
Read an article on The Toastove.
The El Tosto -- by Hotpoint. The illustration to the left comes from a 1913 advertisement and shows an version of the El Tosto without the "toast clips" that were added later and shown in the two lower illustrations.
Hotpoint had an entire line of "El..." appliances, which included the El Eggo egg cooker, the El Perco percolator, and the El Chafo chafing dish among several others. It is not known what influenced this marketing decision.
Read an article about Hotpoint.
|The Pelouze Vertical Toaster -- by the Pelouze Manufacturing Co., Chicago. Several different versions of this elegant toaster were made beginning in 1912.||
|The Armstrong Table Stove, patented 1917. This multi-use appliance allowed one to fix an entire breakfast - bacon, eggs, and toast!|
This image is from a 1912 LIFE magazine ad. The ad reads, in part:
Toast, eggs in numberless ways, tea, coffee, muffins, a chop -- many things the up-to-date woman can suggest.It came with the tray, spatula, and two different cooking surfaces.
Original Price: $6.50.