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hapless
They bury the lede in the last fucking paragraph. The reason this toaster is immensely better than the toaster you have at home is very, very simple: this toaster's 1949 price would be hundreds of dollars in 2021 terms.

You can still buy really, truly excellent toasters made for industrial/commercial use, or for the homes of the very rich, and they're quite a lot better than the trash people keep in their houses. And they cost a lot more, too. Last time I checked, a commercial 2-slice toaster was in the $300-$400 range.

This is true for lots of home appliances. My favorite example is the Kitchenaid mixer. The modern mixers are very thoroughly "value engineered" to keep the price down. If you want to buy an original "Kitchenaid," like they made in the 1930s, you can call up Hobart and buy a miniature mixer. And it will cost you ~$2,000 in 2021, just as it did in 1935.

You can have the good toaster, the good mixer, etc, but it sure looks like people don't actually want that. The pattern of product offerings in your average store suggests people want something affordable, and it doesn't particularly matter whether it is good at its job.

cuddlybacon
Since everyone is mentioning Technology Connections (he deserves it, great channel), I want to bring up this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiS27feX8o0

To me, this really shows the sad direction smart appliances have gone in. I would love to see that smart appliances would have continued to evolve in this direction. I don't like the current state of smart appliances, but going back to the absolute basic seems like an over-reaction to me.

pickledish
His whole channel (called Technology Connections) is probably my favorite one on YouTube, can’t recommend it enough! My favorites are his series on refrigeration and heat pumps, for example this one:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=7J52mDjZzto

Edit: to clarify, this article is based on an old Technology Connections video, and the creator of that video has lots more!

dang
Past related threads:

The Classic Sunbeam Radiant Control Toaster (2006) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23723112 - July 2020 (47 comments)

How to design a good toaster with lessons from the 1940s [video] - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23363646 - May 2020 (17 comments)

An Antique Toaster That's Better Than Today’s [video] - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21164014 - Oct 2019 (232 comments)

Also slightly related:

Toaster Central: Antique and Vintage Toasters and Waffle Irons - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21432144 - Nov 2019 (7 comments)

rob74
I can contribute another simple example of a kitchen appliance that didn't necessarily get smarter: the cooking plate! Remember the good old cookers with rotary switches? Those actually had up to seven different stages of heating (see schematic here http://www.herd.josefscholz.de/7Takt/img16.gif)! While the new digital ones are... digital - i.e. they switch the plate on and off repeatedly to produce different amounts of heat, but that depends on the pot/pan/whatever you put on it to store the heat while the plate is off. So a definite step backward if you ask me...
JoshGlazebrook
Honestly, I searched for a great toaster after going through a few cheap ones and I always came back to this Japanese "steam" toaster. - https://us.balmuda.com/products/balmuda-the-toaster

$300 for a toaster seems insane, but it honestly is worth it. You fill the little 5cc "cup" with water and pour it in, and it uses steam to lock in moisture and then toast. Toast (and honestly everything else) comes out perfectly crisp all over and the inside stays moist.

maltalex
Re-making these toasters is probably a great idea for a kickstarter.
systemvoltage
This actually applies to a lot of old tech and old software. The idea that old == bad is permanently seared into the brains of people. Thanks to marketing. There should be a good balance between trying out new things (new JS frameworks!) and then if it doesn't work, STOP. Modern society is moving towards criticism == bad, which leads to things like Youtube removing dislike visibility and inability to challenge ideas in a corporate setting (someone might just get offended by criticism).

My hope and expectation for society is to balance experimentation and criticism. We need both in equal amounts. A good analogy that I keep is gradient descend algorithm - if we get stuck in a local optima, unless we undo things, there is no way to improve (This is criticism). At the same time, if we don't allow picking new directions, improvement is hopeless (This is experimentation).

philwelch
Blogspam for a 2019 YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OfxlSG6q5Y
oblio
It's remarkably difficult to find something as automated at it.

This should be super cheap and ubiquitous tech but apparently it isn't. Most of the other stuff uses electronics and does more but is actually dumber as an overall device.

For example many can set a target duration or target temperature but because they don't take into account the bread temperature they don't defrost as well.

balaji1
This toaster was expensive when it launched, but could be considered worth the money since it would last for a long time and it seems to have a good resale price even today.

On the other hand, today it is hard to buy simple things of good quality on Amazon - example 100% cotton or 100% woolen clothes. And it would be harder in a physical superstore like Target or Walmart.

silisili
Serious question - do most folks still own toasters today? They just seem so... specifically single function and take up counterspace. In my house, we have a sandwich press which we use for 4 or less pieces of toast at a time. And of course it doubles as a press for paninis or cubanos, too. And you never have to worry about unevenness, as it's just two hot plates basically.

If cooking a lot of toast for a get together or really large meal, just throw them in the oven.

I haven't owned a toaster as an adult, so I'm really curious how popular they are these days.

notacoward
My wife has one of these and she's crazy about it. I'm less enthusiastic, especially since it has no protection against the outside getting hot enough to melt or burn anything carelessly put next to it. Maybe an update addressing that and some of the other issues mentioned in OP would yield a toaster that would make both of us happy.
cassepipe
Ok I guess now is the time and place to complain to whomever cares about toaster design. Why is it that the metal grid that holds the bread has its bars so wide apart ? I don't toast only industrial square bread, I happen to regularly toast good state of the art european bakery bread that have very different slice sizes. It is maddenig to have your slice slip trhough the metal bars and prevent the toaster from going up or having to go fishing for your slice with whatever tool you think fit for the job, in 2021. Is my use case that specific ? I have been looking for a toaster with a tight grid bread holder but could not find one so far. Please help.
malleefowl
If anyone is looking to buy one, I recently bought a restored Sunbeam T-20 from timstoasters.com and love it. He even replaced the plug with a polarized one.
jonah
I have several of these and can confirm they're awesome and very satisfying to use (when they're working correctly).
ltbarcly3
I absolutely hate low effort articles like this. Just restating the contents of a TikToc or in this case plagerizing a Youtube video (Technology Connections, aka Alec Watson) to generate content is lazy, even if you 'credit' the source you are stealing all your content from in some cursory way. Alec noticed something truley interesting and did many days of research and first hand investigation to build this content from scratch, this article just steals it outright and links to his YouTube video as though that makes it cool?
askvictor
I've used quite a few toasters in my years (including this one), but don't understand why, as the toaster gets older, it tends to burn toast. I've noticed this from both cheap, and not-so-cheap toasters. Any ideas what changes in a toaster over a few years of use to cause this?

I've picked up these from hard rubbish a couple of times, but they did tend to burn the toast a bit; kind of wishing I had tried to re-furbish them, now knowing how the mechanism works.

jollybean
There is definitely a market for the resurgence of some of high quality old-timey products, especially those with some novelty.

Sunbeam should literally do a Kickstarter to get the marketing going.

swayvil
Poverty could be defined as an unavailability of high-quality resources.

So if the quality of the available resources goes down, that's poverty?

Tagbert
I wish I could still get a toaster that let me toast one slice at a time. If making toast, I usually just want one slice. It is wasteful to have to heat up both sides for one slice of toast.

I remember one model from a few decades ago where you could just put one slice in and push down one button to toast that. If you put in 2 slices, the other button would push both sides down to toast. I haven’t seen that feature in a long time.

GekkePrutser
Yeah toasters these days are crap. I always have to compensate for ambient temperature and the thing still being hot from a previous slice, thickness etc.

I'd pay more for a toaster that was smart like this one. I wonder why that's not a thing, we have smart everything else...

ChrisMarshallNY
That reminds me of this old bit of Internet humor, called "The Parable of the Toaster"[0]:

    Once upon a time, in a kingdom not far from here, a king summoned two of his advisors for a test. He showed them both a shiny metal box with two slots in the top, a control knob, and a lever. "What do you think this is?"

    One advisor, an Electrical Engineer, answered first. "It is a toaster," he said. The king asked, "How would you design an embedded computer for it?" The advisor: "Using a four-bit microcontroller, I would write a simple program that reads the darkness knob and quantifies its position to one of 16 shades of darkness, from snow white to coal black. The program would use that darkness level as the index to a 16-element table of initial timer values. Then it would turn on the heating elements and start the timer with the initial value selected from the table. At the end of the time delay, it would turn off the heat and pop up the toast. Come back next week, and I'll show you a working prototype."

    The second advisor, an IT consultant, immediately recognized the danger of such short-sighted thinking. He said, "Toasters don't just turn bread into toast, they are also used to warm frozen waffles. What you see before you is really a breakfast food cooker. As the subjects of your kingdom become more sophisticated, they will demand more capabilities. They will need a breakfast food cooker that can also cook sausage, fry bacon, and make scrambled eggs. A toaster that only makes toast will soon be obsolete. If we don't look to the future, we will have to completely redesign the toaster in just a few years."

    "With this in mind, we can formulate a more intelligent solution to the problem. First, create a class of breakfast foods. Specialize this class into subclasses: grains, pork, and poultry. The specialization process should be repeated with grains divided into toast, muffins, pancakes, and waffles; pork divided into sausage, links, and bacon; and poultry divided into scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, poached eggs, fried eggs, and various omelette classes."

    "The ham and cheese omelette class is worth special attention because it must inherit characteristics from the pork, dairy, and poultry classes. Thus, we see that the problem cannot be properly solved without multiple inheritance. At run time, the program must create the proper object and send a message to the object that says, 'Cook yourself.' The semantics of this message depend, of course, on the kind of object, so they have a different meaning to a piece of toast than to scrambled eggs."

    "Reviewing the process so far, we see that the analysis phase has revealed that the primary requirement is to cook any kind of breakfast food. In the design phase, we have discovered some derived requirements. Specifically, we need an object-oriented language with multiple inheritance. Of course, users don't want the eggs to get cold while the bacon is frying, so concurrent processing is required, too."

    "We must not forget the user interface. The lever that lowers the food lacks versatility, and the darkness knob is confusing. Users won't buy the product unless it has a user-friendly, graphical interface. When the breakfast cooker is plugged in, users should see a cowboy boot on the screen. Users click on it, and the message 'Booting UNIX v.8.3' appears on the screen. (UNIX 8.3 should be out by the time the product gets to the market.) Users can pull down a menu and click on the foods they want to cook."

    "Having made the wise decision of specifying the software first in the design phase, all that remains is to pick an adequate hardware platform for the implementation phase. An Intel Pentium with 48MB of memory, a 1.2GB hard disk, and a SVGA monitor should be sufficient. If you select a multitasking, object oriented language that supports multiple inheritance and has a built-in GUI, writing the program will be a snap."

    The king wisely had the IT consultant beheaded, and they all lived happily ever after.
[0] http://www.solipsys.co.uk/new/TheParableOfTheToaster.html (Although I believe that it is even older than this)
quokka
Years ago I had one of these. It slowly stopped working and my wife got sick of it. Without any way to fix it I got rid of it, which I now regret. The toaster we have now browns unevenly and is wildly inconsistent from run to run.
lost-found
Ehh main problem with this is different people like their toast toasted to different levels.
maskaler
Does it do crumpets?!
ls15
But can it collect data about its user and show ads?
stjohnswarts
Also more likely to burn your house down :)
ddingus
What I like most about devices like this is how robust the world is has a whole lot to do with how robust the device is.

My Grandparents had a custom camp trailer made in '74. I have it now. Grannie lived the longest and knew I loved it. BTW, she went white water kayaking the year before she died. Lived well, no regrets. I got so much from her, but I digress...

That trailer ran on propane gas. Still does, except for lighting. Originally, it had all gas lights too, but those are just a bit dangerous and I helped them replace those as a teen years ago. The rest runs on gas. Fridge, Stove, Range, Heater.

Just this year, the heater decided it needed a new thermocouple. I'll get one, clean it up a little, and it will run just fine the same way it has for all those years. The fridge works on a simple chemical solution that boils up through restricted openings, and as the material trickles down, it works to carry heat out of the fridge. That fridge does have an AC option. We've only used it once, and it was to see whether it worked, and how well. Basically, it works and isn't any better than the little gas flame needed to make the fridge work. It will run a couple weeks on a few gallons of propane, has a freezer, and works well up to a little under 110 degrees F. (Yeah, rough year)'

Over the years, I've picked up a few of these kinds of devices and I love them. Mixer, toaster, various old clocks, washer, dryer, weather instruments...

And I've had some professional experience. Older industrial machines that rely on springs, relays, R/C circuits, bimetal elements, just work.

The engineering on these is kind of a lost art in some ways. In others, we have such great material science these days! The same kind of approach might actually have serious merit.

Repair can be a challenge, until one has worked on a few. The basic ideas are broadly applicable. Once those are in mind, and a person has some mastery, these devices are like an open book!

Count me a fan. I like simple things that just do that which they are designed for.

One downside can be overall efficiency. While that counts, I can see people just choosing to live a little smaller, leaner and that can largely balance out, or at the least not be terrible. That's basically what we do.

Re: Smart home

There are very compelling possibilities. But, I am just not up for the maintenance and or the work to really hit the upper level of what can be done, not to mention it's either expensive, or takes considerable time, understanding and skill to roll one's own.

In my 30's I was wanting a lot of those things. However, as time has passed and I see the classics just work, and work, and work, and I don't see people struggling with them, odd states, modes, extras that get in the way, or one uses so seldom it's always a bigger time investment than the value derived.

Less is more in my home and life.

Professionally, that's not going to fly most of the time. And the use cases are different, returns different too.

But, there is a whole lot to be said for robust gear for living. It's simple, life can be simple, with few surprises, all of which frees time and energy for doing other things.

One last thing, and that's the idea of buying once and using for a long time, even handing the thing off to someone else to use. I like this and have employed it in my life. Saved a ton. Sure, these kinds of things are expensive, but one can chip away at things and before we know it, are pretty well equipped and it's gonna last. Worth it.

Where one is inclined to fix things up, or buy used, seeking these kinds of devices, there are deals. Many people get caught up in things like "digital toasters", and that's fine. I'm happy to pick up the good stuff while it's an option.

pxeger1
Shitty blogspam article that just copies the original video by Technology Connections