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A Simple Simplex

By Eric Norcross
Copyright © 1999

Piecing together history involves deduction, inference, speculation and the willingness to change previously held beliefs - even for fairly recent events.

Charles Fisher, writing in the only authoritative book on toaster history (now in print as Hazelcorn's Guide to Old Electric Toasters) states, "Electric Toasters date only from about 1908. Before that, there was no wire that could stand red heat long enough to work in one." This statement is based on the knowledge of the 1906 patent date of the Nichrome wire, and the assumption that since it became standard use in most all electric toasters subsequently, no electric toaster existed before Nichrome. Fisher also concluded, using the patent record, that it was not until the General Electric model D-12 began being manufactured in 1908-09 that the first electric toaster appeared. In the volume 2, #2 of hotwire we presented evidence that Hotpoint (Pacific Electric Heating co.) was advertising a flatbed toaster as far back as 1908 as well, presumably using the Nichrome wire.

However, plenty of other electric appliances were being manufactured and sold before Nichrome was developed, why not a toaster? In fact, at least two did exist made by the Simplex Electric Company.

Simplex Teapot When the 1904 Simplex appliance catalog depicting toasters arrived (a purchase from an online auction), I was quite excited to see what these pre-Nichrome toasters looked like. Were they ornate, delicate appliances with claw-and ball feet? The first illustrations in the catalog of their chafing dishes and tea pots (illustration at right) had my hopes quite high. But the toasters turned out to rather simple (quite appropriate, considering the company name) - but attractive nonetheless; like proto-organisms in the evolutionary lineage of toasters (see illustrations below).

Multi-purpose appliances, like any flatbed unit, the two toasters shown in the catalog differ only in size and wattage required. They were advertised as "Griddle Cake Cookers or Toasters" and the text to describe them reads as follows:

Simplex Toaster

These useful heaters are the best devices for griddle cake cooking and are equally useful for cooking and food that may be prepared on a hot, flat surface, but we do not recommend them for domestic use for cooking food in various utensils, because stoves to fit utensils are more quickly effective and more economical to operate for such purposes.

For griddle cakes and toast they are far superior to gas or coal heated griddles, because the unvarying temperature is certain to give uniform results. Uniform, constant and the right temperature is an important factor in many cooking operations, and in none is it more desirable than in the work for which these are designed. The electric griddle is always just right, and the operator cannot change it.

There are thousands in service in hotels, hospitals, restaurants and steamships.

Simplex Toaster

Primarily griddles and not even recommended for home use, these simple Simplex appliances are called "Toasters," toast is mentioned in the ad copy, and can take the place as the oldest known American electric toaster. With "thousands in service," it can be safely assumed that the electric toaster dates back to around 1900 at least.

So, what heating element did these toasters use? They employed an element embedded and sealed in enamel. This method prevented the oxidation of the element, a problem which the open-air Nichrome wire was later able to overcome. An introduction page in the catalog gives a general explanation of the Simplex sealed element, as well as selling the benefits of electric power:

After many years' experience with all the known methods of making Electric Heaters, we have developed the fact that no durable, reliable heater can be made to operate at the temperatures required for ninety per cent of the work Electric Heaters are made for, unless the electric heating element is so arranged as to have uniform temperature, uniform and rapid conduction of heat to the thing to be heated, and that the heating element be sealed in place. No method covers all these requirements except the "Enamel Method," by which the heating resistance is embedded and sealed in an insulating coat of enamel burned on the article to be heated.

For eight years, continuous constant effort has been put forth to develop the enamel and the resistance element to a state that would enable us to secure a product that under all ordinary conditions of use would prove durable for years. That this has been accomplished is evidenced by the fact that electric heaters are no longer a novelty, and that our product is in demand throughout the civilized world: our export business today is equal to the entire output nine years ago.

While having a large number of patents covering other methods permitting cheaper production cost, after exhaustive trials we have set them aside because they were wrong in principle and unsatisfactory in continued operation. Recent improvements in enamel and the heating element have been material, and insure our product to be thoroughly reliable.

All articles listed are "non-inductive," consequently are equally effective on direct or alternating circuits. It is very important that the actual voltage of the circuit be given when ordering.

All articles listed are made for standard voltages up to 120. Nearly all articles may lie furnished for 220 volts.

All goods using 300 volts or less are supplied with flexible conductor and lamp-socket plugs.





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