Week 3: 1930s Toaster

Why do we toast bread?

What part does the toaster play in the history of electricity?



Answers:

Why do we toast bread?

Toasting bread over an open fire has been a common practice since at least Roman times, as a way to keep bread from growing mold. The ability to preserve food enabled people to make longer journeys, which then led to the easier spread of ideas across cultures. Apart from these very practical beginnings, we continue to toast bread today because lightly browning it brings out much of the flavor. This is due to the Maillard reaction (pronounced "my-yar"), the chemical process responsible for making many foods taste so much better when browned by heat.

What part does the toaster play in the history of electricity?

Once Thomas Edison patented his incandescent light bulb in 1878, he realized its potential could be greatly expanded if everybody had access to electricity. So in 1882 he built the first central power plant in the US, the Pearl Street Station in Manhattan, New York, where electricity was generated by reciprocating steam engines. Soon more stations like this one were popping up, and with wider public access to electricity came many new ways to solve old problems. The first electric toaster was invented in Scotland in 1893 by Alan MacMasters, but it had problems with the iron wires melting. Over the next few decades, inventors kept at it, and then in 1928 American inventor Otto Frederick Rohwedder patented a machine that sliced bread. The toaster we have pictured was made not long after that, in the 1930s. It is a Son-Chief model 680, manufactured in Winsted, Connecticut. The chrome panel on the front is pulled back so the bread can be placed inside for toasting. The two holes at the bottom are for ventilation.