photo courtesy of Smash It Up!
The toaster recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of its invention. It seems like a good time to reflect on the oft-overlooked workhorse of the kitchen.
That first toaster was dreamed up in 1909 by a technician at General Electric who was looking for a way to make stale bread more appealing. He devised a gadget with central heating elements surrounded by a wire cage to hold the bread; add a casing and a pop-up function and it is virtually indistinguishable from modern models. An immediate hit, it actually pre-dates commercially sliced bread by a few decades.
- GE D12 toaster
Absent a true breakthrough in the past century, we have seen only minor tinkering with toasting technology. While the basic utility is unchanged– the bread gets brown and crispy–there are a few interesting bells and whistles out there.
This hand-held, portable toaster (above left) is brushed across the bread like a butter knife, browning the bread as it comes into contact with its surface. An LCD readout display of butterflies represents its toasting temperature. It operates cordlessly, and returns to its base charger after breakfast.
- Patentee rotary toaster
Who else but the French would come up with a toaster that accommodates croissants, brioche, and le petit baguette? Looking like it would be more at home at a bingo game than in your kitchen, the wire cage of the Patentee rotary toaster (right) twirls bread and pastry above the heating element for uniform, toasty deliciousness.
Electrolux has not yet gone into production with its Scan Toaster (seen below), but imagine the possibilities: you can capture an RSS feed of the morning’s headlines, sup on the weather forecast, or maybe generate a post-breakfast to-do list. Inside the Scan Toast is a network of heated wires that align themselves to toast the surface of your bread with the desired content. They toast the pixelated image at a resolution high enough for text or photography.
- scan toaster
- image text photography
Have you ever wondered why we call it a toast when we raise a glass before we drink? It dates to an early Roman ritual (which goes even further back to the ancient Greeks, hemlock, wine, and the disposition of unwanted political rivals). A small bit of burnt toast was dropped into a glass before it was raised, to reduce the acidity and improve the palatability of inferior wine. And this does indeed work: toast’s surface is slightly carbonized by burning, creating a simple approximation of the oxygenated form of carbon contained in activated charcoal– not unlike the substance found in Brita and other water filtration systems.
If you haven’t had your fill of toast, head over to the Toaster Museum home of the world’s largest online toaster exhibition.