Australian House & Garden
The history of the pop-up toaster goes back nearly a century, to an unhappy breakfaster.
Mechanic Charles Strite (right) fumed whenever he was served burnt toast at the cafeteria of the Minnesota plant where he worked. In 1919, after too many mornings of eggs and bacon on charcoal, he conceived a device that would remove the element of human error from the pursuit of a perfect slice. Using springs and a timer, he created the world’s first pop-up toaster. It also browned on both sides, so there was no need to flip the slice halfway through.
Strite patented his invention in 1921 and five years later, his tweaked design sprang onto the US market as the Toastmaster. “You do not have to watch it. The toast can’t burn,” its packaging boasted.
As well as revolutionising breakfast, it heralded the age of the benchtop appliance. Pop-ups got a leg up in 1928, when Otto Rohwedder from Missouri invented an automatic bread-slicing machine; sliced bread and toasters would become a marriage made for mornings. Pre-sliced loaves first appeared in Australian shops in the late 1940s and pop-up toasters followed in the 1950s, the push led by Sunbeam from the US and Morphy Richards from the UK.
Sunbeam’s iconic T9 model, sporting sweeping curves on a chrome body, launched in the US in 1937. But, with war intervening, Britain was slower to adopt the pop-up. Morphy Richards released the UK’s first automatic toaster, which featured adjustable browning, in 1949. It remained a semi-luxury item but many were exported to Australia through the company’s local subsidiary.
Meanwhile, Sunbeam Australia released the T9 here in 1955, capitalising on the decade’s voracious demand for consumer goods; by the 1960s, many Australian households owned a pop-up. This trend was further fuelled by Sunbeam’s Toastermatic of 1960, which featured automatic lowering and raising of the bread.
Recent innovations have seen larger slots for crumpets, chunky sourdough and bagels, as seen in Sunbeam’s Toast n Crumpets of 1989. Meanwhile, heat-resistant plastic casings and microchip controls have made toasters lighter and cheaper to produce.
WHAT IT MEANS TO US
The upright toaster market in Australia has grown to $66 million annually, or 1.2 million units, of which 45 per cent are four-slice models, according to market researcher GfK. And toasters aren’t merely utilitarian. “Kettles and toasters are the most quickly replaced kitchen appliances,” says Elena Pintado, Sunbeam’s head of marketing activation for Australia and New Zealand. “People use them as an instant renovation. They are the vase of the kitchen.” Hence Sunbeam’s Marc Newson and Florence Broadhurst lines. Across all brands, retro styling, chunky industrial profiles and 1950s colour palettes plug into current trends, as does Morphy Richards’ Scandi line with its timber detailing. Like the Toastermatic of 1960, Breville’s Smart Toast offers motorised raising and lowering, and a setting that adjusts toasting time to the type of bread, while a Lift & Look feature lets you peek to see if it’s done to your taste. Despite such innovations, the pop-up essentially remains little changed from Strite’s Toastmaster of the ’20s. It’s still the best thing to happen to breakfast – even before the advent of sliced bread.