The story of the first toaster begins in ancient Egypt. Egyptians realized that if they left their dough sitting for a while, it would rise. And when baked, the bread would maintain its risen shape due to the yeast spores in the surrounding air finding their way into the dough.
They also realized that toasting the dough prevented mold from growing on it. So by 3000 B.C., the Egyptians invented the first closed toaster.
Centuries down the line, the Romans borrowed this practice from the Egyptians around 500 B.C. and made it a common practice in the Roman Empire. In fact, the term “toast” is derived from the Latin word “tostum”, which means “to scorch or burn.”
In the early years, the Roman Empire toasted dough by laying it in front of a furnace on a hot stone. And with time, they invented simple devices that allowed them to toast bread above the fire. Those appliances included wireframes that toasted more evenly as well as sticks such as those we use nowadays to toast marshmallows over campfires.
As Romans were invading countries around the world, they passed their routine of bread toasting. Britain picked up the practice around 40 A.D. and the 1st travelers who came to America brought it with them.
Before the first electric toaster, Americans used a toasting fork or metal frame with a long handle to hold sliced dough near a fire.
Electric toasters of the 20th century
The first electric toaster was later invented in Scotland by Alan MacMasters in 1893. MacMasters was a Scottish scientist, and he called this first invention the Eclipse, which was later commercialized by Crompton, Stephen J. Cook & Company.
That said, this first toaster wasn’t very popular, and thus, didn’t become a commercial success. This was mainly due to the fact the tool’s iron wiring would melt off, resulting in fire hazards. And that was to the few people who could use the appliance at the time since electricity was not widespread.
And even though this toaster wasn’t a hit, it is still what paved the way for future toaster models we use today.
12 years later in 1905, the fire hazard problem was solved by two Chicago inventors including Albert Marsh who created Nichrome, an alloy that was highly fire resistant.
This invention meant that scientists could take a second shot at creating a safer, and more efficient electric toaster. Multiple toasters were invented around this time. But most of them could only toast one side of bread slices.
This means that you had to toast one side, then flip the slice so it could toast the other side.
Getting commercial success
The 1st electric toaster to become a commercial success was the D-12 model that was patented by Frank Shailor in 1909 and fashioned by General Electric.
But scientists were not happy about the fact they had to manually turn the slices in the toaster.
The first “toaster that could turn toasts’ was invented six years later in 1915 by Lloyd Groff Copeman and introduced by the Copeman Electric Stove Company.
A few years down the line, another invention that would make it easier for us to grab toasts form the toasters in the morning was in the works. This was the pop-up toaster. An American Inventor, Charles Perkins was the person credited with inventing this type of toaster.
In an effort to find a solution for over-burnt toasts served in most cafeterias where he was working, the gentleman integrated springs and a timer in his toaster, and after realizing his trick has worked, he applied for a patent in 1919.
2 years later, he received the patent then created Waters Genter Company. In 1926, the company fashioned a redesigned model version of Perkins’ toaster that went under the name Toastmaster.
This appliance was the first successful automatic pop up toaster and was a huge success.
Living up to toasters
Another game changer in the realm of toasters was the invention of sliced bread. The idea of sliced bread was there since the 19th century, but bakers were mostly worried that bread slices would go stale before reaching the buyers.
Worst yet, the bakers felt that consumers would not understand the idea behind the reduction in shelf life even if they managed to reasonably package the product in a way that delayed the inevitable staleness.
In 1928, Otto Frederick Rohwedder designed the first commercial machine that could not only slice bread, but could also wrap it. This machine was first used by the Chillicothe Baking Company.
Two years later, the sliced wonder bread appeared on the market as a product of the Continental Baking Company. In 1933, for the first time in history, American bakeries made more sliced bread than unsliced ones.
This further increased the sale of Perkins’ pop up toasters and made them a common item in every household. At this point, electricity was more accessible all across America.
Sunbeam Products launched a toaster in the late 1940s, and this toaster used a principle by the name “radiant control.” This implied that a sensor would be activated by the toasters heat from the bread slices’ surface and not from the heating element.
When the breads surface reached a temperature of 154 degrees, the sensor would turn off the toaster automatically. This implied that regardless of the initial temperature or color of the bread slices (even if they were frozen) they would all be toasted to the same degree.
As you can see, just like every other invention, the first toaster went through a myriad of tweaks and improvements to reach the level of perfection we enjoy these days.
And note, to this date, toasters are still getting modified. Today, we have the lift and look feature and the ability to produce toasties with different shades. In fact in the 1990s, a toaster that you could control from the internet was introduced.
Who knows what the future may bring? Let’s wait and see.