A portrait of MacMasters around the time of his toaster creation.
Alan Alexander MacMasters
20 March 1865
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
|Education||University of Edinburgh|
|Occupation||Scientist, inventor, industrialist|
Alan MacMasters (20 March 1865 – 25 December 1927) was a Scottish scientist. He is credited with creating the first electric bread toaster, which then went on to be developed by Crompton, Stephen J. Cook & Company as the Eclipse. Although not ultimately a commercial success, MacMasters's invention would pave the way for Charles Strite to invent the automatic pop-up toaster in 1919, which is the device we know as the toaster today. MacMasters died of heart failure on 25 December 1927 at the age of 62.
In November 2018, the Bank of England shortlisted Alan MacMasters out of 227,299 nominations to appear on the new £50 note, in recognition of his contribution to engineering and science in the United Kingdom.
Inventing the Toaster (1883–1893)
In the Autumn of 1883, Alan MacMasters began his study at the University of Edinburgh within the Department of Natural Philosophy (today the faculties of Physics, Science and Engineering). He spent much of his time studying under Professor Fleeming Jenkin, through whom he connected with the ongoing Glasgow Underground project. MacMasters would go on to research and develop an innovative new lighting system to brighten the dimly lit carriages. While MacMasters's high luminosity underground lighting would form the backbone of his initial success as an industrialist, it also inadvertently led to his better known discovery, the toaster.
Although intended for Glasgow, MacMasters's lighting system would first be implemented on the City & South London Railway. It was while working in London that MacMasters met electrical engineer Evelyn Crompton. One night after working together to deliver an electrical and lighting system for what would later become the London Underground Northern line, Crompton invited MacMasters for a drink. Legend has it that after a half-bottle of whisky, MacMasters admitted to Crompton his sly attempt at cost cutting by sourcing a cheaper metal for his filaments. The attempt was a complete failure, as the supplier had put a large amount of nickel in the wire. The resultant lamp ran so hot that his nearby bread began to brown. MacMasters joked that he ought to put one in his kitchen. An amused Crompton invited MacMasters to join him at his laboratory at No. 48 Kensington Court. It was there that MacMasters spent the next several months perfecting the world's first electric bread toaster before selling the design on to Crompton.
MacMasters's toaster was brought to mass market as the 'Eclipse'. It had four electric elements built on a ceramic base. Electricity could be sourced via an adapter that plugged in between a lamp and socket. Unfortunately, by 1894, the MacMasters Eclipse toaster had become the cause of one of Britain's first deadly appliance fire. A woman in Guildford was overcome in her kitchen after the early elements melted and ignited the table. MacMasters and Crompton denied wrongdoing and instead blamed the deceased for 'not holding appropriate respect for the power of the electric toaster' in reference to the fact it had been left unattended.
The invention of the electric kettle is also attributed to MacMasters, who sold the design to Crompton alongside the toaster in the early 1890s. While it used largely the same technology, the element was held in a separate chamber.
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