How the toaster evolved

Did you know that bread and toasting go back to ancient times? Read on ...

Published - July 05, 2024 09:19 am IST

The toaster went through many iterations to become the machine we know today.

The toaster went through many iterations to become the machine we know today. | Photo Credit: Pixabay

Though the toaster may be synonymous with sliced bread, toasting is actually as ancient as bread itself. Originally, bread was toasted on a hot stone kept next to the fire. Toasting preserved the bread and kept it from growing mould. It is believed that the Romans picked up toasting from the Egyptians around 500 B.C. The word “toast” comes from the Latin “tostum”, which means “to burn or scorch.”

On stone

From stone, humans moved to simple devices such as sticks used in barbecues to toast directly over the fire. With the arrival of wood and coal stoves in the 1880s, a pyramid-shaped tin-and-wire device was developed. Bread was placed inside it and toasted. With the arrival of electricity, a toaster that used electricity to heat up steel coils was developed. Unfortunately, the steel coils melted at high temperature leading to the death of a woman in 1894.

In 1905, Albert Mash discovered the alloy Nichrome that didn’t melt at high temperatures. He partnered with George Schneider to develop the first version of a workable ‘electric’ toaster. This was soon followed by numerous others, all named after the various ways in which the machines expelled the toast.

What’s your perfect toast?

What’s your perfect toast? | Photo Credit: Freepik

General Electric brought out the first commercially successful toaster, D-12, invented by Frank Shailor in 1909. Though widely used in restaurants, it didn’t reach homes as electricity was scarce. But the toasts were often burnt. Upset with this, Charles Strite, a mechanic, incorporated a timer that turned off the heating element and released a pop-up spring when the bread was done. By 1921, he was selling them to restaurants.

In homes

In 1926, Toastmaster 1-A, an updated version became available to the public. By now, electricity was also available to households. Advertisements promised a “perfect toast every time — without watching, turning, burning”. In 1928, the first machine to slice bread on a large scale was also at hand. The toaster had arrived.

The toaster continued to evolve: in the 1950s, the first four-slice machine was introduced. Then came a rounded design and wider slots to accommodate different types of bread. In the 1960-70s, safety features such as like automatic shut-off switches and insulated exteriors were brought in. In the 1980s, the introduction of heat-resistant plastics made toasters lighter, safer, and more affordable.

Today, toasters are Wi-Fi enabled and operated by smartphone apps. Some models even have built-in cameras that can scan your bread and adjust the toasting time and temperature accordingly.

Why toast?

But don’t get overwhelmed by all this, bread toasted on the tava will taste equally good. Toasting reverses the process of crystallisation of the bread’s starch and returns the bread, to some extent, to a more tasty and fresh-tasting state. A bonus: It also caramelises the outer surface; a bit like cream on a cake.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.