The History of Making Toast

Monday, June 19, 2017

Toast is a quick and easy breakfast that can be eaten on the go, but it wasn’t always so.

Before the development of the electric toaster, hand sliced bread had to be toasted on a long metal fork or in a metal frame held over a fire, or on a gas stove. Simple utensils for toasting bread over open flames appeared in the early 19th century.

Illustrated catalogue page for iron heater.
Schneider & Trenkamp Company, Illustrated catalogue and price list of reliable gas stoves. Cleveland, 1893.


The technical challenge for the early toasters was developing a heating element which would be able to sustain repeated high temperatures. In 1905 Albert Marsh created “Nichrome,” a filament wire with an alloy of nickel and chromium that was safe and durable when heated.

In 1906, the first U.S. patent application for an electric toaster was filed by George Schneider of the American Electrical Heater Company of Detroit, using Marsh’s wire.

General electric introduced their first electric toaster in 1909, using a competing alloy.  The D-12 model, invented by Frank Shailor was considered to be the first commercially successful electric toaster.

By 1913 the Copeman Electric Stove Company introduced the “toaster that turns toast,” a device that eliminated the need for the bread to be turned manually halfway through cooking.

It wasn’t until 1919, that a Minnesota mechanic named Charles Strite created an easy-to-use toaster designed for restaurants. In 1921, he received his patent for the automatic pop-up toaster. 

Advertisement for Strite automatic toaster
The Strite automatic toaster eliminates the troubles of toast making in cafeterias, restaurants, fountain lunches, steamships, hospitals, hotels. New York, N.Y,1924.

A redesigned version of the Strite toaster was being sold in 1926 by Waters-Genter of Minneapolis under the brand name Toastmaster. It was the first automatic pop-up, household toaster that could brown bread on both sides simultaneously, set the heating element on a timer, and eject the toast when finished.

Toastmaster models listed in a catalog
The toastmaster; automatic electric toaster, New York, N.Y. , 1924.

A few years later, the invention of a machine that would pre-slice loaves of bread helped to further expand the demand for toasters. The first commercial bread slicing machine was invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder. It was installed in Chillicothe, Missouri at the Chillicothe Baking Company, and, on July 7, 1928, the first loaf of commercially sliced bread was sold. The sliced loaves, produced with the name Kleen Maid, were immensely popular. 

W.E. Long, who promoted the “Holsum Bread” brand, pioneered and promoted the packaging of sliced bread through independent bakers around the country, beginning in 1928, two years before Wonder Bread started marketing pre-wrapped, pre-sliced bread nationwide.

Pacific Baking Co. ad about their factory's cleanliness
The story of Kleen-Maid : the bread women have been looking forward to for 3800 years / Pacific Baking Co., Los Angeles, CA, c. 1925.

So go ahead and throw your pre-sliced bread into your automatic toaster, and give a quick toast to these quick toast innovators!

Linda Gross is a Reference Librarian at Hagley Museum and Library.