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Curator's Choice for Fall 2000:
GE model D-12 Toaster, about 1909

Photo of 1909 toaster.
SI catalog #329,287; negative #79-1643.

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 History.

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.*

Photo showing components of 1909 GE D-12 toaster.

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 a kitchen.

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 voltages–from 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 chromium–hence 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:
  • * See Finn, Bernard S., "Collectors and Museums," in Exposing Electronics, (Harwood Academic Publishers, 2000).
  • Fisher, Charles P., Early Electric American Toasters, (self published: Framingham, MA, 1987).

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