November 16, 2005 It came after the electric light and before radio, television, microwave ovens, blenders, juicers, computers - indeed, it was the first electrical appliance to populate the home and one of only a handful of devices in history to achieve ubiquity in advanced nations. Interestingly, although it turns 100 years old this year, it can still be found in more than 90% of American homes. As the first electrical appliance, this also means we are now celebrating 100 years of electrical appliances. Oh, and by the way, can you guess what it is?

Now toast is not new, first having become common about 5,000 years ago in Egypt. Once more the Romans were responsible for the spread the idea of toast across Europe and the word "toast" comes from the Latin "tostum" which means scorch or burn.

The application of electrical energy to standardise the difficult process of scorching bread seemed a natural. Appliances fashioned from wire and designed for holding bread (over a fire) were among the more commonplace kitchen items of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and anyone who has ever toasted bread on an open fire will vouch for the many difficulties associated with the process.

In 1905, all the elements came together to enable the electrical toaster to happen.

According to the Cyber Toaster Museum, a young engineer named Albert Marsh applied for a patent for an alloy of nickel and chromium in March, 1905, which Marsh described in his patent application as having: "...the properties of being very low in electrical conductivity, very infusable, non-oxydizable to a very high degree, tough and sufficiently ductile to permit drawing or shaping it into wire or strip to render it convenient for use as an electrical resistance element."

Two months later, George Schneider submitted a patent application for an enclosed toaster using a resistance wire and the very first rudimentary electrical appliance, the toaster, was born.

The first toaster had a colorful name, "El Tosto," and was manufactured under the Pacific Electric Heating name, which later became Hotpoint Electric.

The first remaining examples of toasters don’t date back quite that far the earliest examples now available dating from around 1909 and from that point ownwards are well chronicled in the pages of the on-line toaster museum and Cyber Toaster Museum. and to document innovation, design and the impact of electricity on the household and family, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History has close to 100 non-electric and electric toasters in its collections, ranging from the 18th century to the 1980s.

The Smithsonian web site has a wonderful section covering many aspects of the toaster such as early advertising and some early examples.

The first U.S. patent for an electric toaster was made in 1909 by General Electric for an appliance that was nothing more than exposed heating elements surrounded by a wire cage to hold the bread. This model, the D-12, is considered the first commercially successful toaster in U.S. history.

The first automatic pop-up toaster was the Toastmaster 1A1, invented in 1926. Among the great variety of toaster designs that popped-up during that period, it was the pop-up toaster that became the winning design for consumers, becoming a highly desired wedding gift along the way. It was not cheap. In today's dollars this would have gone for $150 and was a prized wedding gift.

However, the toaster did not really take off until after 1933 when sliced bread was invented, which makes it official: historically speaking, the toaster is the next best thing since sliced bread. The earliest toasters were designed to mimic small pieces of furniture. In the 1930s the toasters copied the art deco style of buildings and in the 1940s and 50s, toaster design reflected the streamlining taking place in the automotive industry.

Research shows that more than 75 million Americans enjoy a piece of golden brown toast every day and given its place in European café society, it is arguably one of the world's most widespread and popular comfort foods, and one of the most enduring simple culinary pleasures in history. Toast remains the third most popular breakfast item in American homes, 5000 years after it first became popular and the average home spends 35 hours a year making toast.

The process that caramelizes toast -- cooking the sugars in the bread and turning them golden brown -- begins at 310 degrees Fahrenheit and is called the Maillard reaction, which gives toast its flavor and its crunch.

Bread and toast can be a good source of whole grain, which may help prevent heart disease and some cancers. The high folic acid content of enriched grains found in white bread and toast may help prevent neural tube defects. Women of child-bearing age are encouraged to increase their intake of folic acid. Grain foods are the largest source of folic acid in the American diet.

There is also a scientific study on the benefits school children receive from eating what many consider the British national dish: beans and toast. A researcher from the University of Ulster has presented data showing that "toast alone boosted children's scores on a variety of cognitive tests." The toast combined with beans was even more beneficial.

On the racier side, a recent nationwide survey conducted by Harris Interactive(R) for the Grain Foods Foundation found that nearly 10 percent of Americans are more passionate about toast than they are for, well, passion. One in ten said they "would rather eat toast in the morning than have sex." Another 52 percent indicated they prefer toast in the morning over candy, 38 percent want toast more than chocolate, and 29 percent prefer their morning toast over a bubble bath.

November is National Bread Month in the United States and to celebrate bread and our nation's love affair with toast, the non-profit Grain Foods Foundation is recognizing the 100th anniversary of the invention of the first electric toaster.

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