Who invented the toasting device? It seems like an easy question, but you would be astonished at how frequently it is answered incorrectly. When I recently posed this topic to my readers, over ninety percent responded with Charles Strite.
And while it is technically correct (because he invented the pop-up toaster), he did not invent the first electric toaster. The individual was Alan MacMasters. I recognize that MacMasters’s model was simplistic and somewhat unreliable, but I believe credit should be given where credit is due.
In order to provide you with a better grasp of the evolution of the toaster, let’s begin from the beginning.
As anticipated, toasters’ history begins with bread. In addition, archeological data suggests that the earliest use of flour dates back around 30,000 years. In reality, it is highly probable that ancient people also prepared flatbreads.
Furthermore? In Ancient Greece, bread was used as a sacrifice to the gods during rituals, in addition to its widespread use as a staple food in ancient civilizations.
However, bread as we know it today was likely originated in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians discovered that if they left their dough outside for a certain amount of time, it would rise. And when baked over an open flame, the bread would retain its raised shape. As they later discovered, this was due to yeast spores floating in the air and entering the dough.
In reality, the workers who constructed the famous pyramids of Giza were frequently compensated in part with loaves of bread. (Yes, the widespread notion that slaves constructed the pyramids has been discredited.) Archeological evidence demonstrated that the labor force consisted of entire families, not simply strong men (as would have been the case if the pyramids were constructed by slaves.)
Stop with the pyramids already!
At this time in Egypt, leavened bread was far more desirable than flatbread. However, there was only one issue. When left exposed to the sun for extended periods of time, the dough would grow incredibly tough, making it impossible to swallow.
What is the answer to this annoyance? Toasting. This further demonstrates that toasting was likely designed to preserve bread and not to enhance its flavor.
From then, the Romans copied the practice of burning bread, and it gained even more popularity. In fact, “toast” is derived from the Latin word “tostum,” which roughly translates to “to scorch or burn.”
Historically, bread was probably toasted by setting it on a hot stone or in front of a raging fire. From then, Romanians developed several devices for toasting bread over an open flame. These included sticks similar to those used to roast marshmallows over campfires and wireframes that would uniformly burn the bread slices. Inventing the First Electric Toaster
Alan MacMasters, a Scotsman, invented the first electric toaster in 1893. This initial iteration lacked a timer and used heated coils to toast bread. Consequently, the outcomes were frequently subpar and sometimes outright dangerous.
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The toaster’s toasting coils were a byproduct of cost reduction.
When MacMasters devised the device, he was employed by the London Underground. It was a lighting initiative. Therefore, the coils he used in toasters were originally designed for light bulbs.
In addition, the brand that manufactured them employed nickel in the manufacturing process, which created excessive resistance.
MacMasters and his partner production firm were forced to obtain new filaments since the filaments generated too high temperatures and hence could not be used in light bulbs. However, unwilling to concede defeat, the pair resolved to work together to discover how to utilize the early filaments.
After many hours of contemplation and several bottles of whisky, MacMasters concluded that the filaments were ideal for toasting. On a ceramic base, he affixed and encased them. Each model of his invention, named The Eclipse, featured four parts for toasting.
However, despite being a novel concept at the time, it had too many flaws. It was unable to shut down automatically, resulting in many fires and at least one death. In the same year, he was accused of being responsible for the death of a Guildford woman during a controversial trial.
She was caught in a house fire that began after she accidentally left her toaster on for too long. As anticipated, MacMasters refuted these allegations and placed the blame on the woman in question, claiming that she misjudged the temperature the toaster might reach if left unattended for an extended period of time.
When you combine these problems with the fact that power was not widely available at the time, you can see why the concept did not become popular at the time.
Nevertheless, 115 years ago (in 1905), two Chicagoans created a fire-resistant alloy that could endure the level of heat produced by a toaster. This meant that other innovators may now attempt to develop a more efficient and secure electronic toaster.
During this time, many electric toasters were invented. However, there was another issue. All models could only toast one side of the bread slice, requiring the user to manually turn the slices for the second side.
Fortunately for toastie aficionados, many innovations were introduced in the years that followed. These included the 1913-invented automated bread turner and semi-automatic toasters that could successfully turn off the heating components when the bread slices were properly toasted.
Approximately at the same moment, Charles Strite entered the scene.
Why did Charles Strite design the first pop-up toasters in 1919?
According to folklore, Charles Strite was employed at a factory in Stillwater, Minnesota when he first had the idea to revolutionize the toaster models used in cafes and restaurants across the United States.
Every day for lunch at the factory’s cafeteria, he was apparently tired up with receiving burnt toast slices. Therefore, he began to consider how he could improve the designs.
According to a separate story, Charles Strite was in a mall with his wife when he noticed the design of a toaster and began to consider how inefficient it was since it only toasted one side of the bread at a time.
Regardless of whether of the two is true, the ultimate effect is clear: he invented the first pop-up toaster.
When Strite began working on his invention in 1919, toasters were not extensively used in households. Still, they were unreliable, as someone had to monitor the toasting process to ensure that the bread would not burn.
And in Strite’s situation, it is likely that cafeteria workers did not have time to stand about and wait for toasties to be toasted, which explains why he always received toasties that were burnt.
What improvements did Charles Strite’s make to the electric toaster?
Before the invention of Charles Strite’s model, electric toasters could only brown one side of bread slices at a time (even though the turning was automatic.) However, Strite registered a U.S. patent for a toaster that could not only toast both sides of the bread slices simultaneously but also prevent them from burning if you were not paying attention (thanks to the pop-up system.)
The retail version of Strite’s toaster included a timer with a mechanism that helped toast pop up and out of the toaster when it was done toasting. In truth, Strite’s mechanism is still utilized in the majority of pop-up toasters, if not all.
Strite applied for financial banking and founded the Waters-Genter Company in order to market his new innovation. Initially, he sold his pop-up toasters primarily to cafés and restaurants in the United States. But the invention was so popular that by the end of 1926, in response to public demand, the first home-use pop-up toaster was introduced.
The new home model also had a control lever for adjusting the amount of toasting on bread slices. In reality, this was another significant advancement in the field of toasters.
The Development of Sliced Bread
While Charles Strite was inventing a product that would later take the globe by storm, another man from Davenport, Iowa was working on a device that would make grabbing toast in the morning even simpler. This individual’s name was Otto Frederick Rohwedder.
In 1912, he began developing a prototype for his bread slicer, but his machine and designs were destroyed by a fire in 1917.
The man then attempted to acquire money to restart development on his prototype, but since the concept of sliced bread was unpopular among bakers, he was unsuccessful. This is despite the fact that his innovation inspired the well-known expression “the greatest thing since sliced bread.”
Bakers were concerned that the bread might become stale before being sold. In addition, it was believed that the drop in shelf life would not be well welcomed by consumers regardless of the quality of the packaging.
In 1927, Rohwedder was able to repair his equipment and even produce a model that was suitable for use in actual bakeries. As you may have predicted, this coincides with the invention of the first home pop-up toaster.
From that point forward, everything became part of history.
If you appreciate this material and want to learn more about toasters or invest in a quality model, I have numerous blog pieces that I think you will enjoy.
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