Toasters of the 1920s
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!
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 American Heritage.com, 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.
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 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.
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