A Toast to Toasters

The Bamboo and glass toaster, created by industrial designer James Stumpf of StumpfStudio.com

The Bamboo and glass toaster, created by industrial designer James Stumpf of StumpfStudio.com

By Amy Mindell

For such a humble food, the process of making toast inspires fanatical devotion. 

From websites cataloging all things toast to state-of-the-art smart appliances now popping up (pun intended), developments in the toaster world, including the see-through variety, are creating an ongoing buzz.

While inner mechanics of toasters haven’t changed much since the 1940s, inventors are obsessed with making better toast. Kind of makes you wonder why a 6,000-year-old food item continues to attract so much attention. (Toast first came about when the Egyptians made bread, followed closely thereafter by toast.)

Originally, bread became toast by cooking it over an open fire or placing it on a heated rock. Much later, wire forks and wire baskets holding bread were placed in the hearth. After a combination of household electricity and chrome metal was invented, the first electric toaster was created in 1900. 

The pop-up variety came along in 1926, and the automatic toaster, which incorporated a timer and a pop-up mechanism, was introduced in 1940. Today some 88 percent of homes in the U.S. have toasters.

In a 2015 Consumer Reports review of toasters, more than 600 slices of Freihofer’s white bread (used for its desirable texture and consistency) were put to the test in a variety of toasters. The winner? A new Krups 2-slice KH732D50 toaster, taking over the top spot from Cuisinart’s CPT-420 model.

The "Sweetheart" toaster by Landers, Frary & Clark was made and sold in the late 1920s.

The "Sweetheart" toaster by Landers, Frary & Clark was made and sold in the late 1920s.

More innovative versions have recently been introduced. One new model by Hammacher Schlemmer brands its owner’s image onto a slice of bread. The toaster uses custom heating inserts crafted from a headshot photograph. A subject’s full facial details are converted into twin removable stainless steel inserts, which allow heating elements to brown light or dark likenesses of the subject onto one side of toast, so there’s no question about whose toast is popping up. 

Even after 6,000 years, it’s difficult to prevent burned toast. But that doesn’t mean toaster manufacturers aren’t trying. 

iTouchless Automatic See-Through Toaster is equipped with see-through glass windows to guarantee perfect toast every time. The See-Through Toaster consists of an automated, self-elevating platform, capable of moving the bread up and down like a mini “elevator” across the heating element. The glass windows let you watch the process for evenly browned toast. 

Not to be outdone, the conceptual Bamboo and glass toaster, created by industrial designer James Stumpf of StumpfStudio.com, is made from steam-bent bamboo plywood that holds glass toasting trays. Within these transparent toasting trays, bread slices are cooked evenly for the perfect breakfast. The toasting trays heat bread and feature technology to quickly cool hot toast. The glass toaster even comes with a companion smartphone app that allows users to control the appliance from any corner of the home. 

Though still a concept, when the glass toaster is made available, fans like Eric and Kelly Norcross may be the first in line. The pair founded the Toast Museum Foundation (acquired by the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.) and spent years scouring flea markets and estate sales to turn up nearly every toaster ever made, among them, a 1909 General Electric, “the first successful toaster marketed for the home” and a 1930s art deco Hot Toast Gazelle Toaster.