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Household Appliances History Part 2 - Irons & Toasters


The electric stove is just one of a host of household appliances based on resistance heating—the production of heat energy as current passes through an electrically resistant material. Others that appeared in the early days of electrification (especially after Albert Marsh developed the nickel-chrome resistor) included toasters, hot plates, coffee percolators, and—most welcome of all—the electric iron. The idea of a self-heated iron wasn't new; versions that burned gas, alcohol, or even gasoline were available, but for obvious reasons they were regarded warily. The usual implement for the job was a flatiron, an arm-straining mass of metal that weighed up to 15 pounds; flatirons were used several at a time, heated one after the other on the top of a stove. An electric iron, by contrast, weighed only about 3 pounds, and the ironing didn't have to be done in the vicinity of a hot stove. In short order it displaced the flatiron and became the best selling of all electric appliances. Its popularity rose still further with the introduction of an iron with thermostatic heat control in 1927 and the appearance of household steam irons a decade later.

Another hit was the electric toaster. The first successful version, brought out by General Electric in 1909, had no working parts, no controls, no sensors, not even an exterior casing. It consisted of a cage-like contraption with a single heating element. A slice of bread had to be turned by hand to toast both sides, and close attention was required to prevent burning. Better models soon followed—some with sliding drawers, some with mechanical ways of turning the bread—but the real breakthrough was the automatic pop-up toaster, conceived by a master mechanic named Charles Strite in 1919. It incorporated a timer that shut off the heating element and released a popup spring when the single slice of toast was done. After much tinkering, Strite's invention reached the consumer market in 1926, and half a million were sold within a few years. Advertisements promised that it would deliver "perfect toast every time—without watching, without turning, without burning," but that wasn't necessarily the case. When more than one slice was desired, the timer didn't allow for heat retention by the toaster, producing distinctly darker results with the second piece. The manufacturer recommended allowing time between slices for cooling—not what people breakfasting in a hurry wanted to hear. Happily, toasters were soon endowed with temperature sensors that determined doneness automatically.


     Household Appliances
     Irons & Toasters
     Vacuums & Fans
     Essay - Roland W. Schmitt

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