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May 31, 2009 / or4green

Vintage Toasters, Part 2

CT scan of a modern toaster, from radiology art

CT scan of a modern toaster, from radiology art

I asked Michael Sheafe of Toaster Central (see Part I of this post) a few more questions and he graciously replied.

On a key difference between new and old toasters, and on the make-up of the olds ones:

In general, the most remarkable difference between an old pop-up from the 1930s through 1950s is the weight. Old toasters contained pounds of steel, less brass and copper, a few yards of nickel-chromium resistance wire, either coiled or ribbon wire, and bakelite fittings.

He went on to explain that new toasters weigh barely 2 pounds, and contain very little metal. (See the CT scan above, click on it to go the source at radiology art.) So some environmental advantages there – metals are energy intensive materials in terms of extraction, production, shipping, etc., so less is better from that standpoint. Still, probably not enough to outweigh the disposable product model the new toasters follow.

About the design of the old toasters:

I don’t think that manufacturers were intentionally making things as durable as they are, but were merely using the technology of the day. The guts on a 30s toaster shows some fine engineering and precision machining of metal. Heating panels were wound by hand, I find pencil marks inside where that toaster had been inspected and passed marked with the inspectors initials. Imagine that today. Only for medical, military and NASA.

Mr. Sheafe pointed out that the old toasters cost something like a week’s wages, while the modern ones cost more like an hour’s wage. Bearing in mind the previous post (Repair or Replace), you have products with high repair costs and low purchase costs, and so the solution to this equipment replacement problem is to continually replace. He added this about today’s machines:

Repair is not a consideration in either design or manufacture. The presumption is that when it quits it will be discarded.

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