for Fall 2000:
GE model D-12 Toaster, about 1909
SI catalog #329,287;
The D-12 was one of the earliest
toasters sold. The one pictured above is currently on display in
the exhibition Lighting A Revolution at the National Museum of American
This toaster was donated to the Smithsonian in
November 1968 by Mrs. Priscilla Griffin de Mauduit of Washington,
DC. Her father was the toaster's original owner. The unsolicited donation
of this toaster inspired Electricity Curator Bernard S. Finn to begin
bringing a wide range of appliances into the Electricity Collections.*
Porcelain bases for the D-12 were available in
plain white or, as seen here, decorated. Many early toasters sported
elaborate designs for use at the table, rather than hidden away in
The 1909 General Electric catalog listed a plain
white D-12 toaster at $3 (about $54 in today's money) and a decorated
unit at $4 (about $72 today). The power cord cost an additional
$1.50. Rated at 600 watts, the toaster could be purchased for a
range of voltagesfrom 90 to 130.
The four heating elements consist of "Ni-chrome"
wire coiled around mica plates. Invented by Albert L. Marsh in 1905,
this wire combined the elements nickel and chromiumhence the
name. An electric current made Ni-chrome wire glow cherry-red in
open air, unlike a light bulb filament which failed if exposed to
oxygen. Ni-chrome could be heated and cooled many times without
breaking, and made an electric toaster practical. Ultimately, manufacturers
adapted Ni-chrome wire to electric space heaters and other appliances.
This is the second of three D-12 versions made
by GE. The first version became available in 1908 and featured a
twelve-wire basket instead of the six wires seen on this unit. Also
the ends of the two bread slots were connected to the central part
of the basket frame by wires. This added rigidity to the basket
but made it difficult to lift out the toast. The slots on the second
model were open-ended so the bread could be more easily removed.
A third and final model D-12 appeared in 1910
with low-cut wire sides that allowed the user to simply tip bread
in and out. A removable warming rack attached to the top of the
basket above the heating elements on both the second and third versions
of the D-12, but is missing from this particular unit.
This toaster measures 23 cm (9 inches) high
by 18 cm (7 inches) long by 10 cm (4 inches) wide.
For more information
See Finn, Bernard S., "Collectors and Museums," in Exposing
Electronics, (Harwood Academic Publishers, 2000).
Charles P., Early Electric American Toasters, (self published:
Framingham, MA, 1987).