Scottish fact of the week: The electric toaster

IT has become a breakfast staple, but those who tucked into some toast this morning have a Scot to thank for the invention of the electric toaster.

A Scot invented the first electric toaster. Picture: Robert Perry
A Scot invented the first electric toaster. Picture: Robert Perry

Alan MacMasters was a scientist and inventor, born in Edinburgh in 1865. Around 1893, MacMasters contacted the esteemed English electrical engineer R.E.B. Crompton with an idea.

MacMasters had developed a machine which could toast bread using iron wires. MacMasters’ design saw bread sit on a rack while electrical current passed through the wires, heating them and toasting the bread.

Crompton liked the idea, and the machine, dubbed the Eclipse, went into production as the world’s first electric toaster.

The Eclipse. Picture: Public Domain

However, the design was not without its problems. Hot iron had a tendency to melt, and red-hot melted iron had a tendency to set nearby items ablaze.

There was only one heating element in the device, so users would have to manually turn their bread in the face of the iron wiring, and electricity was far from widespread, which meant adoption of the invention was low.

American companies soon began to develop the idea further, swapping iron for more stable metals and refining the design of their devices, until the first truly modern toaster was created by Charles Strite in the early 1920s.

Modern devices offer everything from see-through bodies to printed designs on slices, and have become an essential in kitchens worldwide, but breakfast lovers the world over have MacMasters to thank for their morning toast.