Why a toaster from 1949 is still smarter than any sold today

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They don’t really make them like they used to

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My colleague Tom once introduced you to a modern toaster with two simple-looking buttons: one to briefly lift your bread to check its progress, and another to toast it “a little more”. for. I respectfully submit that you don’t need a button at all.


This is because in 1948, Sunbeam engineer Ludwick J. Kosi invented the perfect toaster, where the simple action of placing a slice in one of its two slots would result in a delicious slice of toasted bread. No buttons, no levers, no other input required. Drop the bread, take the toast.

Some of you are undoubtedly already connoisseurs who know what I’m talking about: the Sunbeam Radiant Toaster, sold from 1949 to the late ’80s. (It is known by several names including T-20A, T-20-B, T20-C, T-35, VT-40, AT-W and even 20-30-AG.) In 2019, The YouTube Channel Technology Connection Famously Explained ok why The Antique Sunbeam Radiant Toaster Is Better Than You, and it just might be the smartest thing you see today.

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But if you don’t have time right now, I’ll summarize: When you stick a slice of bread in this toaster, it pushes down a series of cleverly designed levers, with only two slices to shrink. And it takes enough tension to increase. Self – And Inside it’s a mechanical thermostat that stops toasting your bread When it’s toasted and ready, not after some arbitrary time.

With sunbeams, the heat from the braid heats a bimetallic strip (one of the simplest types of thermostats), made of two different types of metal, which expands at different rates, the connection Bends backwards to separate and ends. When toasted, stop the flow of electricity. And here’s the simplest part: When the heating wire shrinks as it cools, He Triggers the mechanical chain reaction that propels your bread back up. Here’s How Sunbeam Describes It in Toaster Official Service Manual:

Raising the braid up or down is achieved by using the energy of the expansion and contraction of the center element wire. Of course, this movement is very small and is measured in thousandths of an inch, but more than enough carriage movement is achieved by a simple linkage that accelerates the movement by about 175 times.

And that mechanism doesn’t just wear out after about three-quarters of a century of use: There’s a single screw on the bottom of the crumb tray to adjust wire tension, and that alone is what brought many old toasters to life. It is adequate.

So yes: drop the bread, have the toast. And as Technology Connection points out, you get toast, whether your bread is room temperature, refrigerated or frozen, when you stick it in the device.

It also makes it difficult to accidentally burn your bread by toasting it for too long! Remember the “a little more” button on Tom’s toaster? The Sunbeam Radiant Toaster does that by simply dropping a toasted piece of bread back into the slot—it heats the bread back to the temperature at which it browns, which browns the bread a little more, before it reaches the thermostat. Run it once again and shut itself down.

My Sunbeam T-35.
Photo by Sean Hollister/The Nerdshala

By now, you might have guessed, I wasn’t satisfied watching YouTube videos – I bought my own eBay. And then I bought a second and a third, because while it turns out a Space Age artifact that produces delicious food, it’s a wonderful conversation piece that also makes a wonderful gift. (Before giving them away, I unwrapped them and replaced their old power cords with modern grounded three-prong ones, as many of these also have polarized plugs and are not remotely safe by modern electrocution prevention standards.)

There are good arguments that the Sunbeam Radiant Toaster still isn’t perfect. For one thing, there’s no ding to remind you when it’s toast—though these 1275- and 1375-watt toasters are powerful enough to last you a minute or two as well. (Let your tea steep, take your butter and preserve.)

You’re not going to toast bagels easily in these, as the thermostat is aimed at the center of your slice of bread. Frozen waffles come out great, but I have to completely split the English muffins in half so they don’t catch on the guide wires. And while the slices of square sandwich bread are beautifully crunchy, including the thin-skinned Taiwanese toast from my local bakery, the thick or skewered bread isn’t necessary. (A wide piece of Orovate Buttermilk or Nature’s Own Brioche Style may require a quick flip-and-retoast to crisp all the way up.)

But when it works, which it does most of the time, the result is a kind of crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy and moist-on-the-inside toast. My mom tells me she hasn’t eaten since she left. Went his own Mother’s kitchen.

Only the original T20 variant has this Art Deco design.
Photo by Sean Hollister/The Nerdshala

i admit i never tried for balmuda, a $300 toaster oven where you add a dash so that it “locks off the bread’s internal moisture before turning the surface a golden brown.” But I have to wonder if quickly crisping the outside with a dedicated vertical toaster, rather than cooking it a second time in a miniature oven, might be a more elegant solution? I have a Panasonic FlashXpress, which often takes home the best toaster oven award, and its perfectly browned slices certainly don’t have the same flavor that Sunbeam can provide.

I found the T-20B a little easier to work with than the T-35 or later Vista models. Vista had some riveted panels that were easy to open here.
Photo by Sean Hollister/The Nerdshala

If you find yourself in the market for a Sunbeam Radiant toaster, you should know that they are not all the same – you can read about the differences here. Here And Here – And you may have to pay a lot. They go for an average of $130 on eBay, with fully restored models fetching two to four times as much at auction. (also Tim’s Toaster $250. Promises to restore your existing Sunbeam for, although I cannot attest to their work myself.)

Is this really a lot? Sunbeam T20 Reportedly withdrawn in 1949 for over $22.50 brand new, That’s $260 in today’s money, which is why no other company has bothered to replicate its fully automatic charm.

This Thanksgiving, I thought I’d raise a toast for the ultimate toaster. We may never see it again.

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