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A Toast to History

Toast is a staple breakfast item that is simple to make with the use of a toaster. However, before the invention of the electric toaster, it was a time-consuming task. Hand sliced bread would be held with a long metal fork or in a metal frame held over a flame.

Patent of a metal frame toaster, September 18, 1877.

As wood and coal stoves made their appearance, stovetop toasters were created. These are hollow pyramid shaped items with wire on the sides to hold the bread. They are placed atop the heat and the bread is toasted from the heat entering the hollow center. This is easier than holding bread over a flame but still requires the bread to be flipped.

Toaster, year unknown. Object ID: 2016.009.443; Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center collection.

This type of toaster was most popular from the late 1800s through the 1920s.  They are often called camping toasters as they can be used with a gas stove or over a fire – ideal for camping!

The first electric toaster was invented in 1893 by Alan MacMasters in Scotland. However, the first commercially successful toaster was produced by General Electric in 1909. These early electric toasters only toasted one side of the bread at a time and had to be turned off manually. It wasn’t until 1919 that the first pop-up toaster appeared, invented by Charles Strite who received the patent in 1921.

Electric Toaster, made by Miracle Electric Company of Chicago, ca. 1930s. Object ID: 2016.009.635; Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

While electric toasters and other electric appliances were created earlier, it wasn’t until the 1920s that they began to be common household items. The first time in which half of U.S. homes had electric power was 1925!

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center. 

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