Granted, this article is a bit of a departure from my normal fare. However, I have a soft spot in my heart for vintage toasters, having had my own collection a few years back. Retro toasters echo design and architectural trends of their day and are in their own right works of art.
The once-gleaming metal and steel cases of these state-of-the-art kitchen appliances are reminiscent of Art Deco and Art Nouveau masterpieces. Their beauty more than makes up for their primitive nature. I hope you enjoy this look back at a truly important contribution to the world of appliances and the breakfast table!
We'll look at the following vintage toasters in detail:
- The Turnover
- The Flopper
- The Swinger
- The Sweetheart
- The Pop-Up
A Brief History of Toasters
The advent of electricity in the home spawned a plethora of gadgets to make life in the kitchen much easier, including the toaster. Women previously relied on manual tools such as toasting forks and racks designed for use over an open fire or gas flame.
The heyday of the electric toaster began in the 1920s when, according to an article on the website American Heritage, sales of electric toasters increased from 400,000 to 1.2 million by the end of the decade. This is also the same decade pre-sliced bread took the country by storm, in no small thanks to the electric toaster and Wonder-Cut Bread, or as we know it today, good old Wonder Bread.
How Did Toasters of the '20s Work?
Original electric toasters consisted of a heating element and a stationary wire frame to hold the toast in place. Most were mounted on a porcelain base and posed a burn hazard to those charged with making breakfast. Toaster manufacturers in the 1920s added a protective case and a variety of clever mechanisms to automatically turn the bread for easy toasting on both sides. Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular toaster designs from the Roaring Twenties.
The turnover or "turner toaster" featured a spring-loaded door on either side that hinged down. Each door held a slice of bread. When one side of the bread was toasted, the operator opened each door to let the partially toasted bread drop down, giving the non-toasted side access to the heating element when the door was shut again.
This toaster design was typically placed right on the breakfast table due to its manual operation. The diligent person in charge of toast was responsible for making sure the toast was turned before it burned! The turner was popular from the mid-1920s until the early '30s.
Well, you can just imagine the mad frenzy of companies trying to win the hearts of America’s homemakers with their new electric toasting machines. Each one attempting to create a slightly new design that did something the others could not (without infringing on the others’ patents, of course!)
From this crazed period of innovation came designs and mechanisms like the Flopper. The Flopper featured metal doors with a lovely cutout design that also hinged on the bottom. The doors formed an “A” when closed. In this design, when the toast was done, the operator opened the side doors and the toast “flopped” out.
The Swinger spiced up the toasting world and gave the Turnover and Flopper toasters a run for their money. Swingers featured a swinging basket with a two-sided metal wire enclosure that held the bread slices. The bread was “flipped” to the other side with a turn of a knob and the toast was “branded” with a distinctive pattern, making it more attractive for the breakfast table.
The first four-slice toaster was a swinger. It was so expensive that the manufacturers offered convenient payment plans so the clamoring masses could afford to have one in their homes.
This has to be my absolute favorite from the late 1920s. The Sweetheart worked by pressing two buttons located on the base of the toaster. The buttons controlled each side of the toaster. Depressing the buttons would swing the baskets on each side of the toaster out at a 90-degree angle, so the user could either place in the bread or remove the toast. Releasing the button allowed the basket to swing back into place against the unit. Each additional push of the buttons rotated the bread slices in the opposite direction to toast both sides.
Toastmaster debuted the pop-up toaster to American consumers in 1926. The manufacturer used a clock mechanism as a timer for the toast. The key difference in this toaster was the fact that the user did not have to manually turn the toast. It was marketed to make perfect toast every time.
Prior to 1926, pop-up or automatic toasters were originally marketed and sold to restaurants. They were a luxury for most families; so most manufacturers continued selling manual toasters for home into the 1950s. The Toastmaster company designed this toaster with heating elements situated on both sides of each slice. Another feature allowed the user to change the level of darkness by sliding a lever on the side of the toaster which adjusted the timer. The modern, streamlined case was truly a sight to behold.
Questions & Answers
Question: How much did a toaster cost in the 1920s?
Answer: The 1920 toasters cost from $5.00 to $15.00.
Question: How much did a new 1920s toaster cost?
Answer: 1920s toasters were quite luxuries. Some of them could have cost up to $25, which is the equivalent of approximately $315 in 2018.
Question: What do you put on your toast?
Answer: Butter, jam, preserves, marmalade or apple butter.
Question: What would a vintage toaster that still works be worth?
Answer: Many of the vintage toasters still work. Most are typically worth under $100 depending on the design and condition. The deco lusterware Toastrite is a very popular brand with collectors and can go from $200 and upwards.
Question: Where could you buy toasters from the vintage 1920s?
Answer: These toasters are probably easy to get them from antique malls, antique stores, and online websites like eBay, Collector's Weekly, and Etsy.
Question: Did toasters help the economy in the 1920s?
Answer: Toasters were easy to make simple breakfasts. However, they were quite pricey though.
© 2011 Linda Chechar
A Toast to the Electric Toaster: Leave a comment if you enjoyed this article!
Dolores Monet on April 09, 2020:
After reading the article I saw on one of the questions you answered that those 1920's toasters were really expensive! Of course they are so pretty and I can see how you could get into collecting them. Back in the 1970s we had a toaster rack that you set on the stove over a gas flame. At the time, the technology of the 1920s was just too modern for me!
Human bean on February 16, 2020:
whos reading this in 2020?
Pam on March 16, 2019:
Why were 1950's toasters so much faster than todays? You had one setting and it took less than a minute to get a perfect slice of toast.
Michael Cochrane on January 20, 2018:
I have the star rite toaster. Used to be chromed with cord and worked. IN shed for many years and rusted now. Do I recyle to metals or is it worth restoring??
beth on February 13, 2017:
Do you know anywhere I can buy the 'flopper' toaster?
Donna Harding on October 08, 2016:
Great interesting information.
Valdareia on October 01, 2016:
I have an old toaster I use in our camper, because it is much smaller an takes up less space. It is just like the one I grew up with, an I'm 77 . So much fun to use an pretty to. Love to find the Sweetheart.
peytonteixeira on February 01, 2016:
Did you take these pictures, I am using them for research and I need to know who the original photographer is.
dejaunya pope on January 28, 2015:
i love them
Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on January 24, 2015:
I'm glad you enjoyed it, The Schreibfeder. Thanks for the read and vote.
The Schreibfeder on January 23, 2015:
I don't know why I love this hub so much. It's probably the best thing that I have read all month. Voted up.
Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on November 09, 2014:
Thank you peachpurple! I love these old toaster designs--they are functional and attractive. They make for wonderful collectibles to display in the home. I appreciate the read and vote!
peachy from Home Sweet Home on November 09, 2014:
this is really a rare sight. I had never seen such oldie toaster. Voted up
Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on October 20, 2013:
Thanks for the read, idigwebsites...think the winner is def the Sweetheart!
idigwebsites from United States on October 18, 2013:
These are really a delight to see. Like you, my favorite is also the Sweetheart. :)
Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on July 23, 2012:
mistylight, they are so cute, aren't they? Vintage toasters are not only a tribute to our history and ingenuity, they are a great design element for a kitchen or dining room! Thanks for your comment!
mistylight on July 22, 2012:
Well, now this is an idea!! My love for decorating is inspired by culture young and old. I never considered an antique toaster. I love this! Thank you, I hope to find one of these little gems.
Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on November 04, 2011:
MyFavoriteBedding, sorry for the delay in my response! I am glad you enjoyed this Hub. Old appliances are amazing devices and share similar features to the ones we use today. The Sweetheart is definitely a sweetheart!
MyFavoriteBedding from United States on September 28, 2011:
I have never seen a picture of such old toaster ovens. They are very cool, and the Sweetheart toaster is my favorite! Great and interesting hub!
Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on August 18, 2011:
Thanks for the feedback chuckandus6! Old toasters are very stylish. If you find examples in good condition, they make really cool decorative accents for the kitchen. Cheers!
Nichol marie from The Country-Side on August 18, 2011:
I love the old style appliances they are so different from the ones we have now, the one's now work better but I love the looks of the vintage would love to do the kitchen like that. great hub thumbs up
Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on May 05, 2011:
Maria, it was an interesting hub to research as well. Thanks for the feedback!
Maria Harris from Houston on May 05, 2011:
I remember my grandma had a toaster similar to the Flopper.
That was a useful and interesting hub to read. Thanks for sharing.
Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on March 29, 2011:
Christine, I love it too -- it's my favorite! Thanks for reading and commenting!
ChristineVianello from Philadelphia on March 29, 2011:
oh wow, I absolutly love the sweetheart toaster!
Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on February 19, 2011:
Who knew toasters could be so cool!
Pagelift on February 18, 2011:
Oh my god, I want one!
Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on February 07, 2011:
BkCreative, thanks for the rating and nice comment! These old toasters are so much fun, I might just have to start collecting again!
BkCreative from Brooklyn, New York City on February 06, 2011:
I would love love love to have one of these old toasters. There was a time a product was made not just to be functional but to be beautiful. I remember a similar toaster from my childhood like the flopper and I would just make toast to be making it. Such fun!
Great hub and rated up - yay!
Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on February 02, 2011:
Thank you for stopping by Truckstop Sally! Yes, the Sweetheart would look quite elegant on a buffet table with other vintage collectibles.
Truckstop Sally on February 02, 2011:
Such an interesting hub. Some of the toasters are beauitful. My favorite is the Sweetheart.
Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on February 02, 2011:
Wow, I hadn't thought about it, but Asian countries wouldn't be big into toast. It's one of those things that makes you feel comforted even when you're far from home. Too bad it is such a rare delicacy in Vietnam.
I am so glad you enjoyed the trip down memory lane, travelespresso! Before we moved to South America I had a lovely Cuisinart retro-look 2 slicer. I gave it to my stepdaughter because of the voltage differences. Reminded me of the one I had growing up.
travelespresso from Somewhere in this exciting world. on February 02, 2011:
How cool! This is a really lovely hub and I so enjoyed the way you combined the retro toasters with the new options available on Amazon.
It's really difficult to get toast here in Vietnam and I SO miss that lovely smell as the toast cooks - as well the taste.
Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on February 02, 2011:
GmaGoldie, thank you for the nice comment! Glad you enjoyed the Hub! Go Packers!
Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on February 01, 2011:
Delightful! I was sharing with my Green Bay friends the Packers toaster and what a hit my great gift for Packers' fan was with the toaster. These are very cool - and the history too! Excellent Hub! Voted up and useful! Very well done!