The toaster is typically a small electric kitchen appliance designed to toast multiple types of bread products. A typical modern two-slice toaster can draw from 600 to 1200 watts and makes toast from practically any bread product in 1 to 3 minutes. There are also non-electrical toasters that can be used to toast bread products over an open fire or flame.
Before the development of the electric toaster, sliced bread was toasted by placing it in a metal frame or on a long-handled toasting-fork and holding it near a fire or over a kitchen grill. Simple utensils for toasting bread over open flames appeared in the early 19th century.
The primary technical problem at the time was to find a material for use as the wire heating element that would be able to sustain repeated heating to red-hot temperature without either breaking or becoming too brittle. A similar technical challenge had been recently surmounted with the invention of the first successful incandescent lightbulbs by Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison. However, the light bulb took advantage of the presence of a vacuum, something that couldn't be used with the toaster. Macmaster's toaster was commercialized by the Crompton, Stephen J. Cook & Company of the UK as a toasting appliance called the Eclipse. Early attempts at producing electrical appliances using iron wiring were unsuccessful, because the wiring was easily melted and a serious fire hazard. Meanwhile electricity was not readily available, and when it was, mostly only at night.
The problem of the heating element was solved in 1905 by a young engineer named Albert Marsh who designed an alloy of nickel and chromium, which came to be known as Nichrome. The first US patent application for an electric toaster was filed by George Schneider of the American Electrical Heater Company of Detroit in collaboration with Marsh. One of the first applications the Hoskins company had considered for chromel was toasters, but eventually abandoned such efforts to focus on making just the wire itself.
In 1913, Lloyd Groff Copeman and his wife Hazel Berger Copeman applied for various toaster patents and in that same year the Copeman Electric Stove Company introduced the toaster with automatic bread turner. The company also produced the "toaster that turns toast." Before this, electric toasters cooked bread on one side and then it was flipped by hand to toast the other side. Copeman's toaster turned the bread around without having to touch it.
The automatic pop-up toaster, which ejects the toast after toasting it, was first patented by Charles Strite in 1919. In 1925, using a redesigned version of Strite's toaster, the Waters Genter Company introduced the Model 1-A-1 Toastmaster, 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.
Meanwhile, the first machine-sliced and machine-wrapped loaf of bread was sold on July 7, 1928, using Otto Frederick Rohwedder's technology. In 1930 the Continental Baking Company introduced pre-sliced Wonder Bread.
Later 20th century and beyond
By the middle of the 20th century, some high-end U.S. toasters featured automatic toast lowering and raising, with no levers to operate — simply dropping the slices into the machine commenced the toasting procedure. A notable example was the Sunbeam T-20, T-35 and T-50 models (identical except for details such as control positioning) made from the late 1940s through the 1960s, which used the mechanically multiplied thermal expansion of the resistance wire in the center element assembly to lower the bread; the inserted slice of bread tripped a lever to switch on the power which immediately caused the heating element to begin expanding thus lowering the bread. When the toast was done, as determined by a small bimetallic sensor actuated by the heat passing through the toast, the heaters were shut off and the pull-down mechanism returned to its room-temperature position, slowly raising the finished toast. This sensing of the heat passing through the toast, meant that regardless of the color of the bread (white or wholemeal) and the initial temperature of the bread (even frozen), the bread would always be toasted to the same degree. If a piece of toast was re-inserted into the toaster, it would only be reheated.
Newer additions to toaster technology, include wider toasting slots for bagels and thick breads, the ability to toast frozen breads, and the option to heat a single side or slot. Most toasters can also be used to toast other foods such as teacakes, Pop Tarts, potato waffles and crumpets, though the addition of melted butter or sugar to the interior components of automatic electric toasters often contributes to eventual failure. Some toasters can be modified to print images and logos on bread slices.
Types of Toasters
In pop-up or automatic toasters, bread slices are inserted vertically into the slots (generally only large enough to admit a single slice of bread) on the top of the toaster. A lever on the side of the toaster is depressed, activating the toaster. When an internal device determines that the toasting cycle is complete, the toaster turns off and the toast pops up out of the slots. The heating elements of a pop-up toaster are usually oriented vertically, parallel to the bread slice - although there are some variations.
In earlier days, the completion of the toasting operation was determined by a mechanical clockwork timer; the user could adjust the running time of the timer to determine the degree of "doneness" of the toast, but the first cycle produced less toasted toast than subsequent cycles because the toaster was not yet warmed up. Toasters made since the 1930s frequently use a thermal sensor, such as a bimetallic strip, located close to the toast. This allows the first cycle to run longer than subsequent cycles. The thermal device is also slightly responsive to the actual temperature of the toast itself. Like the timer, it can be adjusted by the user to determine the "doneness" of the toast.
There are two possible methods of adjusting the heat that is applied to toast. The most commonly used method is a fixed distance to the heating element and either variable time or a heat sensor. The second method, less often seen, is to vary the distance of the heaters from the toast. Although a sensor will accurately measure the temperature of the toast-slice's surface with both methods, the outcomes are by no means the same. When heaters are closer to the toast, the surface is crisp and darkened quickly, leaving a softer internal texture at the time when the temperature sensor asserts its readiness. Many enjoy toast made like this. With increased heater distance, the inside of the toast is dried out more by the time that the surface is deemed ready. Perhaps owing to the increased complexity, variable heater distance is rarely found.
Toaster ovens are small electric ovens with a front door, wire rack and removable baking pan. To toast bread with a toaster oven, slices of bread are placed horizontally on the rack. When the toast is done, the toaster turns off, but in most cases the door must be opened manually. Most toaster ovens are significantly larger than toasters, but are capable of performing most of the functions of electric ovens, albeit on a much smaller scale. They can be used to cook toast with toppings, like garlic bread or cheese, though they tend to produce drier toast and require longer operating times, since their heating elements are located farther from the toast (to allow larger items to be cooked). They may also heat less evenly than either toasters or larger electric ovens, and some glass cookware cannot be used in them.
Conveyor toasters are designed to make many slices of toast and are generally used in the catering industry, being suitable for large-scale use. Bread is toasted 350-900 slices an hour, making conveyor toasters ideal for a large restaurant that is constantly busy with consistent demand. Such devices have occasionally been produced for home use as far back as 1938, when the Toast-O-Lator went into limited production. These toasters are also effective at home.
There have been a number of projects adding advanced technology to toasters.
In 2001, Robin Southgate from Brunel University in England created a toaster that could toast a graphic of the weather prediction (limited to sunny or cloudy) onto a piece of bread. The toaster dials a pre-coded phone number to get the weather forecast.
A hot dog toaster is a variation on the toaster design; it will cook hot dogs without use of microwaves or stoves. The appliance looks very similar to a regular toaster, except that there are two slots in the middle for hot dogs, and two slots on the outside for toasting the buns. (See photo)
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