This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

burnt toast

May 29, 1919:

Pop Up Toaster Patented

We take for granted many of today’s most common household tools and appliances.  Consider the automatic toaster for example.  This appliance has been standard in American households for nearly a century, thanks to the clever invention that Charles P. Strite patented in 1921.

imagesCASSEGVH vib-strite

At the time, toasters were imperfect but they did exist.  People have been consuming bread for the past 6,000 years, and toasting bread makes it crunchier and preserves it, an especially important characteristic for early civilizations.  Before the advent of the electric toaster, bread was toasted over an open fire with the help of a variety of simple tools. Toasting bread does more than just preserve it, of course, it changes its nature; bread becomes sweeter, crunchier and the perfect surface on which to spread all sorts of things.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Strite went to work in a manufacturing plant in Stillwater, Minn., during the war effort surrounding World War I.  In 1919, after observing that much of the toast served in the cafeteria was burned, he began working on a machine that would toast bread automatically and stop heating after the toast was ready, requiring no human intervention.

GE's D-12 - Notice the screw in "plug"

GE’s D-12 – Notice the screw in “plug”

The first electric toasters began to appear after electricity made its way into the average American household in the late 1800s.  Many versions soon followed from people and companies trying to improve on the concept, including General Electric, which developed the first commercially successful toaster, the D-12, in 1909. Even this toaster had its drawbacks, however. It toasted bread one side at a time and had to be watched constantly to be sure it did not overheat the bread

Strite’s version employed heating elements that could toast both sides of a slice of bread at the same time. It also included a timer that turned off the electricity and a spring that ejected, or “popped up,” the toast when the electricity shut off. He received U.S. patent No. 1,394,450 for his device, which became known as “the Toastmaster.”

toasterinstructions toastmaster_1a1


Click to view larger image

It was not a big seller until:

The next major breakthrough…for the toaster, came in 1928. Prior to then, the local bakery sold bread in loaves. But Otto Frederick Rohwedder, an inventor changed history by creating the presliced-loaf and sealed-bag process.

The Continental Baking Company altered the course of bread forever in 1930 when it introduced sliced Wonder Bread.  Sales were slow at first as suspicious consumers were slow to accept a pre-sliced bread, but convenience overruled apprehension and soon everyone wanted sliced Wonder Bread on their dinner table.

Otto and his bread slicing machine

Otto and his bread slicing machine

Thus the phrase: “The greatest thing since sliced bread”

sliced breadBy 1933, only five years after the bread slicer’s introduction, American bakeries were turning out more sliced than unsliced bread. This gave a boost to Charles Strite’s spring-loaded, automatic, pop-up toaster which had been languishing on the shelves since 1926. With Rohwedder’s standardized slices on the market, Strife’s invention suddenly made sense . . . and the automatic (pop-up) toaster becomes a standard in American households

Milestones in Toaster History You’ve Always Wanted to Know (or not):

1905 Albert Marsh discovered Nichrome the filament wire needed to toast bread
1906 George Schneider applied for a patent for his version of the electric toaster. It is never built.
1909 General Electric introduces their first electric toaster for the home. Invented by Frank Shailor
1913 Hazel and Lloyd Copeman apply for toaster patents
1913 Copeman Electric Stove Company introduced toaster with automatic bread turner
1914 Westinghouse introduces electric toaster for the home. Under license of Copeman patents
1919 Charles Strite invents a automatic pop-up bread toaster and applies for a patent
1921 Waters Genter Co. formed to manufacture Strite’s toaster and market it to restaurants.
1921 Two of Strite’s patent application are approved
1926 Strite file patent application for his design for a home toaster
1926 Waters Genter Co introduce their first electric toaster for the home under the Toastmaster name
1926 Max McGraw purchased Waters Genter Co. and the Toastmaster brand
1928 first mechanical pre-sliced bread goes on sale to the public in Chillicothe, Missouri
1929 Patent 1,698,146 issued to Strite for the automatic pop-up toaster for home use
1930 Wonder Bread begins selling pre-sliced bread, most bakeries follow suit
1933 toaster sales skyrocketed, thanks to the standardized size of sliced bread

Vintage 1958 Howdy Doody Wonder Bread Commercial


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