When I first started RVing, a little over 11 years ago, I bought a new toaster. It wasn’t fancy–a two slice Toastmaster bought for about $20. It worked fairly well, from 2006 until 2013. But it failed, and the circuit board with the timer wasn’t repairable. It was a throwaway appliance, made in China.
That failure was disappointing. I remember an old toaster in my grandmother’s kitchen that they got not long after they were married. It had a battle scar from falling off of the top of the curved refrigerator where it lived when not in use. But it was regularly in use for more than half a century–that kitchen cranked out some of the best breakfasts on the planet.
They were the type of breakfasts where you might as well come hungry–she was going to feed you. It was a small eat-in kitchen, with every plate within arm’s reach from her position at the stove. She’d look at your plate, with a pancake just buttered or a single bite out of a piece of toast and say, “looks like you’re ready for another,” and before you could swallow and politely decline, there was more food on your plate.
You can find a four-slice toaster in the kitchen of many homes today, but that kitchen could feed a small army two slices at a time. Surely it could keep up with my needs in the RV.
Finding Out What it Was
So I set out to try to figure out exactly what kind of toaster it was. I knew exactly what it looked like, and quickly found out what the state of toasters was in the first half of the last century. In advertisements, you see terms like “automatic”, “pop-up”, “turn-o-matic”, and “flapper wing”. It took a bit, but I eventually figured out that my grandmother’s toaster was a Toastmaster 1B14. Many references put its cost at a third of a week’s wages. Theirs was supposedly a wedding gift.
A quick search on eBay turned up several for sale. I bought one made in 1953 for $6.99, plus shipping. When it arrived, I plugged it in, and enjoyed a slice of toast far more evenly toasted than the modern device could have ever hoped for.
Still Toasting at 64
I’ve now had this vintage toaster 4 years, using it regularly and transporting it all over the country in my RV. It doesn’t do bagels, and some fancy bread loaves with large slices won’t fit. But it’s a hefty hunk of metal, that seems prepared to last well into the next century.
It’s real chrome–not chrome-look plastic. That means is weighs more than 5 pounds. The only plastic on it is the bakelite handles, and I know from the fall off of my grandparents’ refrigerator those might suffer a chip. But it’ll keep toasting.
Given that my newer, unrepairable toaster was a little more than half a century newer, you’d think it could be better. In terms of features, it might have been. But it was tossed in the garbage because it could no longer perform its intended purpose.
The New York Times in 2011 said that, “in terms of aesthetics and performance, the toaster has been devolving for a generation.” Back in 1956 though, Consumer Reports said “there seems little excuse for toasters that are badly designed or poorly constructed.” Have our standards changed?
At the risk of getting into politics, you have to stop and think about something like this toaster and our standard of living. Even at minimum wage today, you could buy a new toaster with a couple of hours’ work. The old Toastmaster was made when the minimum wage was just $0.75/hr, meaning it would take over 30 hours at minimum wage to buy one. Interestingly, inflation-adjusted, the minimum wage is about the same now as it was then. That would put the basic toaster’s purchase price today north of $200.
How many of us would be willing to pay over $200 for a toaster? If the difference was between one that needed replaced every 7 years and one that would last my lifetime, it’s a toss-up. When you consider that the 1B14 makes better toast, is better looking, and more satisfying to use, it’s easy.
The New York Times called the 1B14 “absolutely the end-all-and-be-all toaster there ever was”. Maybe, maybe not. Is there a better one out there yet?