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The Stillwater factory worker who designed the pop-up bread toaster

Motivated by his desire for a reliable cafeteria breakfast where he worked, Charles P. Strite designed a pop-up toaster in 1919.

Toastmaster pop-up bread toaster invented by Charles P. Strite and manufactured in Minneapolis by the Waters-Genter Company in 1921.
Toastmaster pop-up bread toaster invented by Charles P. Strite and manufactured in Minneapolis by the Waters-Genter Company in 1921.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

While employed at a Stillwater factory during World War I, inventor Charles P. Strite turned his skills to a personal matter. The cafeteria frequently delivered burned toast because busy cooks neglected to turn off the toaster in time. Strite set out to solve this problem, and eventually improved upon existing electric toasters in several important ways. His design featured heating elements that simultaneously toasted both sides of the bread, a timer that automatically turned off the heat, and springs that pushed up multiple pieces of perfectly browned toast.

Strite applied for a patent, then acquired capital from local investor Glen Waters in 1920 to build the first batch of machines. He shipped 100 hand-made toasters to Childs Restaurant locations nationwide, which soon returned each one for repairs. The buyers were enthusiastic, however, so Strite made the necessary technical adjustments to his product.

Harold Genter added additional financial backing, and the new Waters-Genter company began production in Minneapolis. Orders came quickly from restaurants, hotels, and other commercial kitchens, because the Strite Automatic Toaster reliably and evenly toasted each slice of bread in half the usual time, with less effort for employees.

Strite soon modified his original design into a smaller, one-slice version for in-home use, and applied for a second patent. The household model featured sleek Art Deco styling and utilized recent plastics innovation in the heat-proof Bakelite handles. A brass Toastmaster label adorned each machine to clearly identify the new brand.

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Further investment by Iowan Max McGraw in 1927 allowed the company to increase capacity. It moved into a larger production space just down the street at 213–217 North 2nd Street for expanded Toastmaster production, including the home model. By 1933, the Minneapolis factory was running shifts twenty-four hours a day to meet demand.

In 1935, Minneapolis’ MacMartin advertising agency created a national ad campaign for the brand, promoting toast as a versatile food item which could be served to family or guests at any time. Hardware stores sold special serving trays that incorporated bread, toppings, and the Toastmaster toaster itself. At that time, a two-slice model sold for $16.00, while a one-slice version was $11.50. In 1938, McGraw Electric transferred all production to Illinois.

In the twenty-first century, Toastmaster products continue to be manufactured in the United States and sold for use in home and commercial kitchens.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.