The pop-up toaster (especially in its classic chrome design) is something of an American kitchen icon. It was born right around 1930 at the same time that machine-sliced and machine-wrapped bread made its first appearance, thus signaling what would become a long-winded craze of automatic and convenience-driven kitchen technologies.
Before the pop-up toaster came a sequence of toasting tools that required some degree of manual assistance: one that toasted one side at a time and required a flip by hand, one that toasted both sides but required that the bread be lowered in and removed by hand, and preceding both of these, simple forks or metal baskets that required the bread be held over open fire.
It’s hard to deny that we can’t get much closer to toaster perfection. Although the toaster oven (which was technically invented much sooner but didn’t make mainstream appearances until much later) does hold some perks over the pop-up toaster, there haven’t been any major changes to pop-up toasting technology since its advent.
Aside from functionality, the pop-up toaster seems to hold quite a bit of pop-culture allure. It was the star of the 1980s classic children’s epic “The Brave Little Toaster,” originally a novel by Thomas Disch and eventually a Disney film that few from that era haven’t seen. My sister and I shamelessly watched it on repeat for days.
The toaster also floated across 1990s Mac screens for years as the most popular screensaver of the “After Dark” software series. I used to sit in my mom’s office chair, staring at the screen and waiting for the winged pop-ups to emerge from their slumber, where they would fly over a black background with pieces of toast peppered throughout. It even had a dial that allowed you to adjust the doneness of the toast (I told you, “perfect toast” is quite subjective!).
So loved is the pop-up toaster that it has even prompted the foundation of The Cyber Toaster Museum, featuring an in-depth history of the toaster, extensive collection of toaster-inspired artworks, and memorabilia and miscellany, including a collection of pop-up toaster references in vintage comics and cartoons like Tom and Jerry, Little Lulu, and The Jetsons. My favorite is a mosaic made from more than 3,000 pieces of toast each cooked to an appropriate shade.
Whether crisping our bread, taking our children on adventures, or animating our vacant computer screens, the pop-up toaster enlivens our breakfasts and brightens our days. It’s no wonder we love it so well.