By Eric Norcross
The year is 1926 - less than two decades had passed since the invention of the first commercially successful electric toaster. Before toasters became electrified there were a variety of methods for making toast, from using the hot hearthstone, to putting bread on multi-purpose toasting forks and holding it over a fire, to employing fancy, hinged bread holders that could be attached to the side of a fireplace and swung into the flame. They all required a diligent eye to make sure the bread wouldn't burn, and these were satisfactory methods for several millennia.
But with the arrival of the Industrial Age, automation, and the 20th Century, certainly it was time to move beyond having to designate someone in the family as the "Toast Watcher," as the first electric toasters required. A Stillwater, Minnesota mechanic, Charles Strite, thought so, and he set out to rectify the problem of burnt toast in his company's cafeteria. Using a big, clockwork-like timing mechanism, powerful springs, and a dual-lever design, Strite filed a patent for the first pop-up toaster on May 29, 1919.
Strite, with financial backers, formed the Waters Genter Company (eventually to become Toastmaster, Inc.) to produce his toaster. Strite designed his toaster for commercial use in restaurants, and they were massive, four-slice things, weighing upwards of twenty pounds and employing a sturdy, cast aluminum casing.
The success of the commercial model led the company to work on an automatic pop-up toaster for the home. Several designs were considered in the first half of the 1920s, and, finally, in July of 1926 Strite patented the Toastmaster model 1-A-1.
The 1-A-1 was a scaled down version of the commercial unit, with a nickel plated steel body and utilizing the dual-lever design, but it was made to toast just one slice of bread at a time. Single-slice toasters had been made by other manufacturers prior to the 1-A-1, but with the success of the first Toastmaster, that company went on to produce six different models, wonderful in their diminutive appearance and sleek styling, that have come to be described by some as Bachelor (or Bachelorette) Toasters, (single slice = single person).
Though not originally marketed as Bachelor Toasters, at least one model, the 1-A-6, had copywriters who recognized that it filled that niche:
The reason it took awhile for the two-slice, pop-up toaster to become the American household standard was the cost involved in their manufacture. The Toastmaster 1-A-1, when first introduced, sold for $13.50, five times as much as certain "flip-open door" toasters available at the time -- a two-slice model was designed but deemed to be too expensive to produce. It was a luxury item, but the 1-A-1 set the design standard for toasters, raised public interest enough that March 1927 was designated National Toaster Month, and went on to sell over half a million units until the 1-A-2 supplanted it in 1930.
With the 1-A-2 the toasting process was simplified to one lever and the toaster was given a slightly softer appearance; the 1-A-3 had a dark band added a couple of inches above its base; a wonderul sculptural quality is acheived in the 1-A-4; the 1-A-5 shows a dramatic stylistic change to the "Streamline" era; and the 1-A-6 demonstates both the sleekness of the 1950s and the coming understated simplicity of the 1960s.
Toastmaster did start making a two-slice model in 1930 with the 1-B-2, but the single-slicers remained in production up into the 1950s, and they remained popular as a slightly less expensive -- but still automatic -- option.
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