Who invented the toaster? It sounds like a simple question, but you will be surprised by how many people usually get it wrong. When I recently asked this question from my readers, more than 90 percent of them said Charles Strite.
And while that is technically true (since he invented the pop-up toaster), he wasn’t the first person to invent the first electric toaster. It was Alan MacMasters. I know that MacMasters’ model was rudimentary and slightly unreliable, but I think we should give credit where credit is due.
With that in mind, to give you a better understanding of the evolution of the toaster, let us start from the beginning.
As expected, the history of toasters begins with bread. And according to archeological evidence, the earliest presence of flour can be dated back to around 30,000 years ago. In fact, it is very likely that individuals back then made flatbreads as well.
What’s more? Besides being used as a staple meal in lots of civilizations back then, bread was also used as an offering to the gods during rituals in Ancient Greece.
But loaves, as we know them today, were likely invented in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians realized that if they leave their dough sitting outside for a specified duration, it would rise. And when baked over a fire, the loaves of bread would maintain their risen shapes. This was, as they later found out, because of yeast spores floated around in the air getting into the dough.
In fact, the people who built the renowned pyramids of Giza were usually paid partially with loaves of bread. (Yes, the popular belief the pyramids were built by slaves has been debunked.) Archeological evidence showed that the workforce comprised full family members, not just strong men (as would have been the case if the pyramids were constructed by slaves.)
Enough with the pyramids.
At this time in Egypt, leavened bread was considered way nicer compared to flatbread. But there was only one problem. When they left out in the sun for extended periods of time, the dough would become extremely hard, which would, in turn, make it difficult to consume.
The solution to that nuisance? Toasting. This goes on to show that toasting was probably invented as a mean to preserve bread and not as a way to make it tastier.
From there, the practice of scorching bread was adopted by the Romans and that was where it became even more popular. Actually, the term “toast” is derived from the Latin word “tostum,” which loosely means to scorch or to burn.
At the time, bread was likely toasted by simply laying it on a hot stone or placing it in front of a blazing fire. From there, Romanians invented multiple devices that could be used to toast bread on top of the fire. These included sticks like those that you use to your marshmallows over campfires and wireframes that would toast the slices more evenly.
The Creation of the First Electric Toaster
In 1893, a Scotsman named Alan MacMasters invented the first electric toaster. This first model had no timer and utilized heating coils to toast the bread slices. In turn, the results were often substandard and other times downright hazardous.
The toasting coils used in the toaster were a by-product of cost-cutting. At the time MacMasters invented the tool, he was working for the London Underground. It was a lighting project. So, the coils he ended up using in toasters were filaments initially intended for bulbs.
And the brand that produced them had used nickel in the production process, which created too much resistance.
The heat created by the filaments was excessively hot, and since they couldn’t be used in bulbs, MacMasters and his partner production company had no other option but to acquire new filaments. However, not wanting to accept defeat, the duo decided to team up together to find a way how to use the initial filaments.
After several hours of thinking and many bottles of whiskey, MacMasters decided that the filaments would be perfect for toasting. He mounted and enclosed them on a ceramic base. He called the invention “The Eclipse” and each model had four elements for toasting.
However, even though it was a revolutionary idea back in the day, it had too many pitfalls. It couldn’t shut itself off automatically and this resulted in multiple fires and at least one death. The same year, he was involved in a controversial trial that accused his business of resulting in the death of a lady from Guildford.
She was trapped in a house fire that started after she turned on her toaster and left it on for too long. As expected, MacMasters denied these accusations and blamed the lady in question stating that she underestimated the temperature the toaster could reach if left unattended for a long time.
Couple those disadvantages with the fact that electricity was not widespread at the time and you will see why the idea didn’t become a master idea at the time.
That said, 115 years ago (in 1905), two Chicago geniuses created a fire-resistant alloy that could sufficiently withstand the level of heat a toaster produces. This meant that other inventors could now take a stab at creating a more effective and safer electric toaster.
In fact, multiple electric toasters were invented around that time. But there was another problem. All the models could only toast a single side of the bread slice, and the user usually had to manually flip the slices to toast the other side.
Luckily for toastie lovers, further developments were made in the coming years. These included an automatic bread turner that was invented in 1913 as well as semi-automatic toaster models that could successfully turn off the heating elements when the bread slices were sufficiently toasted.
This was also around the time Charles Strite came into the picture.
What Led Charles Strite to Create the First Pop-Up Toaster Model in 1919?
The legend states that Charles Strite was working for a factory based in Stillwater, Minnesota at the time he 1st thought about revolutionizing the toaster models used in cafes and restaurants all around the United States.
Ostensibly, he was fed up with getting burnt toast slices for his lunch at the factory’s cafeteria every day. So, he started thinking about the ways he could improve the designs.
Another different source points out that Charles Strite was in a mall with his wife where he saw a toaster’s design and started thinking of how inefficient they were since they toasted only one side of the bread slices at a time.
Whichever of the two is accurate, at least we all know the end result: he ended up creating the first pop-up toaster.
Note that in 1919 when Strite started working on his invention, toasters were not really widely used at homes. They were still too unreliable because someone had to keep guard while toasting to ensure that the slices did not come out burned.
And in Strite’s case, you can guess that workers in a cafeteria did not have time to stand around and wait for toasties to be toasted, which is probably why he was always getting burnt toasties.
How did Charles Strite’s Improve the Electric Toaster?
Before Charles Strite’s model was invented, electric toasters could only toast one side of the bread slices at a time (even though the turning was automatic.) Strite’s United States patent, however, registered a toaster that could not only toast both sides of the bread slices at the same time but also keep them from burning even if you weren’t paying attention (thanks to the pop-up system.)
Strite’s toaster retailed with a timer that had a mechanism that helped the toasts to pop up and out of the toaster when they were sufficiently toasted. In fact, Strite’s mechanism is still the one used on most, if not all, pop-up toasters today.
To vend his new invention, Strite applied for financial banking and created the Waters-Genter Company. At first, he was only selling his pop-up toasters to cafés and restaurants around the United States. But the invention was so famous that by the end of 1926, due to public demand, the 1st pop-up toaster that could be used at home was released.
The new home-model also boasted a lever one could use to control how much they wanted their bread slices to be toasted. In fact, that was another major breakthrough in the realm of toasters.
The Introduction of Sliced Bread
As Charles Strite was inventing a product that would later take the world by storm, another gentleman from Davenport, Iowa was working on an invention that would make it even easier to grab some toast in the morning. This Gentleman was called Otto Frederick Rohwedder.
He started working on a prototype for his bread slicer as early as 1912 but unfortunately, a fire destroyed his machine and blueprints in 1917.
From there, the man tried to secure funding to start working on his prototype again, but since the idea of sliced bread wasn’t popular among bakers, he had no luck. This is regardless of the fact his invention would give us the reputable phrase “The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread.”
Bakers were worried that bread would start going stale before it had even been sold. This was coupled with the thought that the reduction of shelf life would not be received well by the end consumers regardless of how great the packaging was.
In 1927, however, Rohwedder managed to rebuild his machine and even went ahead to create a model that was ready to use in actual bakeries. As you may have guessed, this is around the same time the first pop up toaster for home use was invented.
From there, everything became the part of the history.
If you like this content and would like to expand your knowledge on toasters or invest in a great model, then I have several posts I think you would love. Feel free to check them out.
- Best regular toasters
- Best 2-slice toasters
- Best four-slice toasters
- Toasters vs toaster ovens
- Best modern toasters
- Best aesthetic toasters
So, to conclude, Charles Strite invented the 1st pop-up toaster, but he built on an existing design that had been created by Alan MacMasters.