Little Bits of History

No More Burnt Toast

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 27, 2010

Some old style toasters

May 27, 1919: Charles Strite, sick of being served burnt toast, applies for a patent for a pop-up toaster with a variable timer. The patent was granted in October 1921 and The Waters Genter Company was formed to market the new invention to restaurants. By 1926, the modified toaster was branded as Toastmaster and available for sale to harried housewives trying to get breakfast on the table.

People have been eating bread for about 6,000 years. They have been toasting it with varying success since Roman times. Toasting over an open fire made for uneven heating at best and burnt bread in a worst case scenario. Each side of the bread had to be toasted separately. The first electric toaster to hit the market came from England in 1893 and was a dismal failure. The idea was tantalizing, but failed over in the US as well. There were at least two different brands of toasters made before General Electric’s patent for one that was marginally successful. The bread was toasted on one side and then had to be toasted on the other.

The first citation for “toast” meaning “history” or  completely over, passé, done … comes from The St. Petersburg Times on October 1, 1987. This meaning of toast comes from the inefficiency of the toaster. It means “burned, scorched, wiped out, demolished.” The word “toast” comes from the Latin word, torrere, which means “to burn.” How toast also came to mean a salute with a glass of libations is another story.

Toasters are dependant on other technologies. Electricity for power needed to be harnessed prior and available to homes or businesses before we could plug in the first automatic toaster. This was accomplished in the 1880s. The wires of the toaster need to get to a temperature of 310º F and a special alloy was needed. Albert Marsh developed nichrome, a nickel-chromium blend, in 1905. These wires could endure the temperatures needed for the time specified by the timer. Today, toasters come in 2- or 4- slice varieties and can accommodate wide slices or bagels. We also have toaster ovens and conveyor toasters. But they still can burn your toast.

“I cast my bread on the waters long ago. Now it’s time for you to send it back to me – toasted and buttered on both sides.” – Jesse Jackson

“You know that Pepperidge Farm bread, that stuff is fancy. That stuff is wrapped twice. You open it, and then it still ain’t open. That’s why I don’t buy it, I don’t need another step between me and toast.” – Mitch Hedberg

“The privileges of the side-table included the small prerogatives of sitting next to the toast, and taking two cups of tea to other people’s one.” – Charles Dickens

“If toast always lands butter-side down, and cats always land on their feet, what happens if you strap toast on the back of a cat and drop it?” – Stephen Wright

Also on this day:
In 1703, St. Petersburg, Russia was founded.
In 1927, retooling the factories began for Ford’s Model A.

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3 Responses

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  1. Sherry said, on February 27, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    My friend’s mother has a large collection of chrome toasters – only chrome. The way some of them went about the simple task of browning bread is convoluted and pretty funny. Most of her toasters still work, too!

    • patriciahysell said, on February 27, 2014 at 8:52 pm

      I’m lucky I can keep a modern toaster working for more than a year or two. 🙂

      • Sherry said, on February 28, 2014 at 12:18 pm

        Yes, I got that.

        I not only break stuff on a daily basis, but manage to hurt myself, too. When I was a kid (40+ years ago), they said you were “accident prone.” Now they say you are “self-destructive.” *sigh* I can hardly help that I’ve always been bigger than the average female – and clumsy as left-handers of yore tend to be. I am quite literally covered with scars from scalp (spider monkey bite – long story), to hands (severed a finger in the service), to toes (as a teenager I tried jumping over a split-rail fence in pursuit of a snake, hit my foot, and got a big chunk of wood wedged under the tendon in my big toe – had to be cut out.) Good thing I’m not terribly vain about my looks! *lol* 🙂


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