Why a toaster from 1949 is still smarter than any sold today

The image is called "shollistertoaster" and it can be found on thecdn.vox-cdn.com.

A toasting appliance.

The photo was taken by Sean Hollister.

My colleague Tom once showed you to a modern toast with two buttons, one to toast it a bit more and the other to check its progress. You shouldn't need a button at all.

The perfect toast was invented in 1948 by an engineer from Sunbeam, who wanted to make a toast that tasted good. No button, lever, or other input is required. Drop bread and have toast.

Some of you are already connoisseurs of the Sunbeam Radiant Control Toaster, which was sold from 1949 to the late ‘80s. It goes by many names, including the T-20A, T-20-B, T20-C, T-35, VT-40, AT-W and even the 20-30-AG. Technology Connections on the YouTube channel explained why the antique Sunbeam Radiant is better than yours, and it might be the smartest thing you watch today.

If you don't have the time, I'll tell you that this is a mechanical toaster that pushes down a series of cleverly designed levers that have just enough tension to lower and raise two slices on their own.

The heat from the bread itself causes a bimetal strip to expand, which causes the connection to be severed and the flow of electricity to be stopped. The most ingenious part is that when the heating wire shrinks as it cools down, that causes a mechanical chain reaction that lifts your bread back up. The official service manual for the toaster describes it this way.

Raising or lowering the bread is accomplished by using the expansion and contraction of the Center Element wire. The movement is very small and is measured in thousandths of an inch, but more than adequate carriage movement is obtained by a simple linkage which increases it 175 times.

The mechanism that wears out after nearly three-quarters of a century of use has a single screw under the crumb tray that adjusts the tension of the wire.

Drop bread, get toast. You get toast regardless of whether your bread is room temperature, refrigerated, or frozen when you stick it into the device.

It's hard to accidentally burn your bread by toasting it too long. Tom had a button on his toast. The Sunbeam Radiant Control Toaster warms bread by dropping a toast in the slot and then it shuts itself off once more, so that the bread will be at the correct temperature.

Noupscale is a file onchorusasset.com.

My car is the T-35.

The photo was taken by Sean Hollister.

I bought my own video off eBay, I wasn't satisfied watching a video on YouTube. A Space Age artifact that produces delicious food is just the kind of wonderful conversation piece that makes for a wonderful gift, and I bought a second and a third because it turns out. Before giving them, I replaced their aging power cords with modern grounded three-prong ones, which are not remotely safe by modern electrocution prevention standards.

There are good arguments that the Sunbeam Radiant Control Toaster is not perfect. There is no need to remind you when the toast is done, and the 1275- and 1350- watt toasts are powerful enough to keep you going for a while. Grab your butter and preserves when your tea is steep.

There is a limitation to the slot size.

Since the thermostat is aimed at the center of the bread, you will not be able to toast bagels easily. I have to split English muffins in half so they don't catch on the guide wires. The thin-cut Taiwan toast from my local bakery doesn't fit in thick or oblong breads. A wide slice of Oroweat Buttermilk or Nature's Own Brioche Style might require a quick flip-and-retoast to crisp all the way across.

When it works, the result is a piece of toast that is crisp-on-the-outside, fluffy-and-moist-on-the-inside.

Noupscale is a file onchorusasset.com.

Only the original T-20 variant has this design.

The photo was taken by Sean Hollister.

I have never tried a Balmuda, the $300 toaster oven where you add a splash of water so itlocks in the bread's inner moisture before the surface is given a golden brown finish. I wonder if baking it a second time in a miniature oven would be a more elegant solution if you could quickly crisp the outside with a dedicated vertical toast. I own a Panasonic flashXpress, which is often voted the best toaster oven, but it doesn't have the same taste as the Sunbeam.

Noupscale is a file onchorusasset.com.

The T-20B is easier to work on than the T-35. The riveted panels on the Vista were easy to remove.

The photo was taken by Sean Hollister.

If you find yourself in the market for a Sunbeam Radiant, you should know that they are not all the same, and you may have to pay a bit more. They go for an average of $130 on eBay, with fully restored models fetching two to four times that at auction. I can't vouch for their work, but Tim's Toasters promises to restore your existing Sunbeam for $250.

Is that a lot? The T-20 retailed for over $22.50 new back in 1949. It takes $260 in today's money to replicate its fully automatic charms.

I was going to toast to the ultimate toast this Thanksgiving. We may never see it the same again.


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