Plus, assembly looks quite intricate and probably highly manual.
It's beautiful, sure, but go and buy a toaster today and see how much premium people are willing to pay for a designer brand with no functional advantage.
Sadly toasters all work "well enough". This is a textbook example of great engineering being trumped by globalised economics and fickle consumers.
[Edit: if it's older than ten years, say how old - they made them better back in the olden daze]
These devices are sold for ten euros/dollars, or so. You really can't do good product design to that sort of price point. People expect to have to "recycle" them.
I bought a toaster for which you can order replacement heater elements, or a new timer. You can dismantle it and reassemble it with a normal electrician's screwdriver. The timer is clockwork. The whole thing's very steampunk.
It cost about 8 times as much as a "disposable" toaster. I don't know if it was a good deal; I'll tell you in a few decades. But if I don't have to bother with replacing it, from my POV that will be money well-spent; I'm sick of replacing stuff that should still be working. I'm sick of "hardware" that's really made of tissue-paper. And I'm sick of furniture that's made of wood-chips.
I’m sure there a number of different elements at play here, but one aspect I’ve seen happen time and again is private equity buying out a company and using that strong brand to make progressively shittier and shittier goods, for the same or higher price, while still retaining enough critical mass mindshare that the brand is still “quality”.
I can spend $10 or $40 on a toaster. Both will do the job. One will maybe look slightly nicer. Maybe the $10 toaster will break after 2 years (if it breaks before that, it's still within the mandatory warranty period), then I'm out $10 at worst.
But when I get the $40 toaster, it might be higher quality, or someone just put even worse crap into a nice box and charged me a ridiculous price for it. I can't distinguish those two scenarios. It might last 10 years, or it might crap out after 2 and now I'm out $40.
And the cheap toaster might also last 10 years (mine is 5 years old, so even if it craps out now, the $40 toaster would have had to last for 20 years to be "cheaper"). In the end, it's a gamble, and I'm not convinced that paying a factor of X more increases your chance of not getting crap by that much.
In fact, I've been quite happy with most products, cheap or otherwise, and the occasional disappointment is much less of a problem when you buy cheap.
You're quite right: price is not a good guide to quality. But I am beginning to think that "consumer" products fail much sooner than "industrial" products. So I'm thinking that my next utility room will be kitted out with industrial washers. Stuff the "consumer" stuff where it don't shine.
The particularly infuriating part about it is that I work in product design, and it isn't something we can fix. If I were to start my own product company, it would absolutely be something with a significant "smart" component to it. Not only is it what the customer seems to want, but you need it to prevent someone else from copying your IP and undercutting you.
and this is how bad money drives good money out of the market. What is the general solution for this, assuming the quality level isn't illegal?
Maybe the next generation beyond 3D printing will be able to do multi-component assembly tasks, and you can get/print your own high quality components, and assemble your own high quality toaster... Maybe
The parent mentioned 3D printing: I think that's the space were right now this plays out the most. Many designs are open or at least have open components, and people build and sell variations, but brands and brand loyalty are very much a thing.
For example, go to a totally different category: clothing.
In the great age of US sports clothing, tees were slowly knitted by machines called loopwheelers. E.g. tees from Champion.
These days, they are crap. If you want a nice tee that will age well and last really long, you need to buy from some Japanese brands that try to imitate old Champion tees. The price is really high, and you'd most likely need to import or buy from a high end shop.
I try to buy good stuff that lasts ages. I don't care paying a big premium. I try to live with around 100 items. But its really hard.
Besides there being more stuff of every type of buy, the purchasing power of the dollar has declined, so maybe people can't afford a toaster that's as good any more?
I guess you'd have to multiply this by whatever the average wage was for each year.
I don't think that's right. I think it's less expensive to make stuff that doesn't need to be replaced.
Probably the best pairs of shorts I ever bought were some weird brand that cost $8 apiece at Sam's Club...
it depends what you are looking for.. if the only criteria is quality :
- Maison Cornichon. It is actually a french brand but Japan is by far their biggest market. They use old french machines. the resulting tee is very strong, probably heavier than what you expect. They do have a lot of shrinking when you wash them (and you can expand them again afterwards).
- Merz B. Schwanen : simple high quality german tshirts
- The Real McCoy's : japan brand specifically trying (successfully) to reproduce americana pieces.
- lots of other japanese brands make good tshirts.. it kinda depends what you are looking for. Blue blue japan pieces are often very beautiful but also indigo dyed (so they leak a LOT of pigment the first time they are wet).
- Taylor Stitch actually makes one of the heaviest tshirts I have ever seen.
- Outside of cottons tshirts, there are also tons of merino ones. Outlier would be the most well known in the USA. It is was less resistant to abrasion that a cotton one, but it absolutely does not retain smells (so you could hike 10 days with it if you wished to, it would barely smell anything).
The machines that a lot of these brands use are actually pretty interesting.
These are often very old machines. Their use had been almost completely abandoned because they are pretty slow. There are 'lots' of them in Japan in the first place because several decades ago they were pretty standard. The industry has moved to new machines with better yields but some niche brands saw an opportunity there.
E.G. there are some Youtube videos on how a brand like Momotaro makes denim : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ek5520fSymY
Eventually we were dropping bread from high above the toaster to get just the right amount of force. It often took many attempts, would not recommend.
It has a plastic exterior, and a metal interior. The thermal regulator was luckily designed for this, if you start more bread immediately after the first pair it will finish faster and with less cooking.
It's a very reliable toaster for $8 , and if it breaks I'm going to feel like an asshole when I throw it in the garbage.
I used it in January when I toasted some banana bread.
> [Edit: if it's older than ten years, say how old - they made them better back in the olden daze]
> These devices are sold for ten euros/dollars, or so. You really can't do good product design to that sort of price point. People expect to have to "recycle" them.
> I bought a toaster for which you can order replacement heater elements, or a new timer. You can dismantle it and reassemble it with a normal electrician's screwdriver. The timer is clockwork. The whole thing's very steampunk.
> It cost about 8 times as much as a "disposable" toaster. I don't know if it was a good deal; I'll tell you in a few decades. But if I don't have to bother with replacing it, from my POV that will be money well-spent; I'm sick of replacing stuff that should still be working. I'm sick of "hardware" that's really made of tissue-paper. And I'm sick of furniture that's made of wood-chips.
Might I ask what brand of toaster is it?
Fridges on the other hand... I've had 3 die over the same period.
I bought mine in 2015 and it works. I've never had a toaster fail either. I'm not sure what you're doing with your toasters.
One of my water boilers failed (lid hinge broke). My oven recently broke after 12 years.
All in all I don't have many problems with appliances breaking.
I think it's more survivorship bias to think that old appliances were better. The ones you see surviving are the ones that didn't break a long time ago.
Cool. That's four years ago.
I use toasters to toast stuff. Mainly pre-sliced bread, sometimes bread I sliced by hand. Occasionally bread I baked myself. Srsly - I'm not trying to toast building materials, or bathroom tiles, or garden waste.
And I don't know why four years is supposed to be a good lifespan for a device that has no parts that have any kind of failure-plan. I mean, a toaster should last forever.
"Survivorship bias": The "ones I see surviving" have all failed, in point of fact. They've all broken down. The only "machines" I own that are older than five years are  a ROTEL audio amplifier (cheap == < £120, works well), and  Monitor Audio bookshelf speakers (about £400 for the pair, they look nice too). Both of these are more than 20 years old.
But my beef isn't about toasters; a cheap toaster costs about EU20, who gives a shit. It's about washing machines and dishwashers. These things cost from EU300 to EU700; and as far as I can tell, it doesn't matter how much you are prepared to spend, it's going to fail within five years (and you're going to have to call out a mechanic several times during that interval).
There's no "survivorship bias" going on here; the stuff I've referred to that survived belonged to my parents. Dude, they've both died.
I'm even an avid baker and cook, so it's not like I underutilize my appliances.
My washing machine is currently only 4 years old.
Yeah, I learned woodworking partially because I wanted furniture I knew wasn't made from crap. It's a fun hobby that lets me step away from the computer.
Nevermind all the chemicals they use in some of this stuff. We bought a dresser and it smelled so bad we had to leave it in the garage for half a year before we used it indoors.
Did old toasters have asbestos in them?
Yes. Asbestos was everywhere at least in the first half of the 20th century. The type, amount used, and typical exposure is not really a concern, however. I'm not aware of any problems caused by using asbestos-containing toasters daily --- on the assumption that if there were, it would've been all over the news.
Recreating this toaster is exactly the kind of thing I hope that set gets around to.
Plus, there are toasters that cost more than my tablet which don’t have this feature. If you can make a toaster that infuriatingly stupidly expensive and sell it, you can sure as hell afford to make a workalike [of] this mechanism.
The coffee machine in my office has a touchscreen display. It only dispenses 4 things - lattes, cappuccinos, black coffee, and espressos.
Why does this have to be a touchscreen? It could have easily been more usable buttons.
But I guess you can't charge a $100 premium for buttons
All coffee machines I’ve seen with any kind of screen made extensive use of it for messaging purposes. It is a lot more useful than some led blinking twice for cleaning and three times when there’s no water in the tank.
Rather than having to do X front panels, you just put all localisation data in a config file and be done with it.
And yes, I would much prefer actual pushbuttons.
I would've thought maybe it's a hygiene thing, easier to clean a flat surface, except below it is a number keypad with only 0-9, where you can also pick a floor by typing in your floor number. Plus, ground floor has its own independent physical button.
I've already gotten into the habit of ignoring the touchscreen and using the physical buttons as a mini rebellion - there's a security camera in the elevator, maybe someone will pick up on it.
I don't know if that's people getting some design sense and not using screens where they don't need to, or just happenstance. But it seemed relevant.
Making unique, superior products is expensive. Your profit margins are much better if you just take the same crap everyone else is selling and put a sharp suit of clothes on it.
The youtube comments include a response from a former sunbeam employee that suggests that it was discontinued because the companies CEO at the time was someone known for stripping companies and likely laid off the manufacturing staff.
That's definitely not the reason. We have automation robots and people do kinds of manual assembly for much less than a $200 or so this could easily command (besides, it's still being made).
We also have toasters with custom parts made today, they just aren't purely electro-mechanical like this.
That you can have one for a century and it will still work/be repairable easily is more likely the reason.
You can still find the old Sunbeam units on ebay. And there are fan sites:
And even investigative pieces on them:
Sage have tried for the market of "premium, but made like crap really". £120+ for a regular toaster with added LEDs, displays, etc. They sell purely as they paid a celeb chef for their adverts.
Think about it: You buy a Tesla Model X for Unobtainium money, and there are panel gaps. But you buy a bucket of Lego bricks for $20, and each one clicks together perfectly.
Lego may be expensive for a tiny blob of plastic, but the point I'm making is that their engineering is amazing relative to the cost of each brick.
p.s. That being said, I hear you! The sets with authorized franchise tie-ins are expensive, in large part because a sizeable part of their market are adults with disposable income. There is no other explanation for a CAD800 Millennium Falcon with 7,500 pieces.
Automotive body panels are large and relatively flexible, hence harder to get close tolerances on. Small injection-molded parts, however, can be made to much closer tolerances and the process has been around for over half a century.
LEGO sets have always been priced at a premium.
You can also do well at yard sales. I got my son a tote of mixed LEGO’s for $6 recently.
Well, like all of us who didn't grow up rich, she has to adapt and get the cheap lego sets, rather than whatever the kid wants.
> Now I see them as just like any other business
That is more on you than Lego.
The design of the toaster reminds me of the design of the first transistor radio which ingeniously needed just four transistors to work. Nowadays that engineering effort would be a complete waste of time. It's sad in a way that that sort of craft has been lost, but it's largely redundant now.
$200+ easily, just look at KitchenAid or Magimix toasters...
The art of engineering is not to create a beautiful machine, it's to build something that does the job as efficiently as possible.
It's easy to build a machine that does something, it's hard to build it so it can also be manufactured cheaply. See e.g. the Juicero (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juicero#Controversies).
I stand by every word I wrote. I'd rather use a propane torch. It'd be quicker and easier and safer.
My experience is very similar to what you describe: The switch that gets it going is finicky, and will frequently play games with you for several minutes before letting you have toast. The darkness seems to be controlled by a random number generator rather than the darkness dial. Aborting toast that's getting a bit too toasty is a non-obvious procedure that tends to involve singing your fingers. I suspect that the thing is a fire hazard.
The reason I stop short of saying it's a bad toaster with a bad design is, the thing is half again as old as I am, and it's probably just that it's starting to wear out.
After half a century.
Name another electric toaster that will make toast at all, however jankily, after that many years of service. The fact that the thing is the bane of my breakfast is kind of a testament to what a great product it was. A lesser toaster would never have survived long enough to torment me so.
(p.s. - I will say that that silent smooth rise out of the toaster, while impressive at first sight, is objectively a nuisance in practice, since it puts it on you to keep track of the time and an eye on the toaster so that you can get your toast when it's done, before it's had time to dry out and become unappetizing becuase you left it bathing in the toaster's residual heat for too long. Which is just way too much to be putting on me in the early morning, when the coffee has yet to take effect and I haven't had a chance to get so much as a slice of toast into my stomach yet.)
In the video, the first toast that comes out of the 'old school' toaster looks pretty dark:
I hate it when companies do that stuff and get away with it, or even praised for it.
(Looking at you Apple, your keyboards suck and the notch is stupid)
Maybe also just an example of something that's "too clever by half" 
My own mini-rant: We got a KitchenAid mixer for our wedding and I think it's the worst mixer I've ever used. We had a Sunbeam growing up and it was superior in every way.
We have a bowl lift and I love it, though that's with an asterisk... Ours is a ~7 year old one (maybe 10), and the drivetrain is pretty crappy. The accessory port is driven by some really nasty looking sintered metal gears, and some teeth on ours broke, despite never having used the accessory ("PTO"?) port. I ended up taking it apart, I could get replacements for everything but I ended up disabling the accessory port because that part of the drivetrain was so sketchy. The rest of it was just fine.
The newer ones, as far as I can tell from a disassembly video I watched, are vastly superior in the drivetrain. Ours, has been a real workhorse since I did this fix. I used grease with a lot of molybdenum content, but should have used something rated for high temp, because at one point a few months ago my wife had it smoking.
It may be great once you get used to it. I mainly discovered that we don't have any need for a mixer.
The new Sunbeam mixers really are crap. My mom bought a replacement since something gave out on hers that must have been from the late 70s / early 80s. I think she used it once or twice and it either gave out or didn't have enough gusto to even mix up a batch of cookies. She got a KitchenAid that she feels similarly disappointed with as I do.
The thing that was great about the Sunbeam style mixer is that the beaters were at the back end of the bowl and a little rubber nub on one of the beaters "walks" the bowl around and shoves everything through the beaters, so everything gets mixed up really evenly. Plus you can grab the side of the bowl and move it back and forth to break stuff up better.
The other advantage is that the front of bowl is always open for pouring things in or scraping things off the sides.
The planetary gear thing the KitchenAid does just seems weird to me and doesn't seem to actually mix things thoroughly. Probably just a learning curve I've never bothered to go through...
The newer ones feel much cheaper. My wife has one of the fancier new models, and it just feels like a much inferior product. It's the same design, but everything about it works less well than the older iteration.
I've had toast made on a charcoal grill and I gotta say it tastes a lot better than toast made in a toaster.
One of the challenges of cooking is juggling multiple things so the food is all ready at the same time. Being able to do steps in advance helps with that. This actually kind of matters for toast because freshly toasted bread is a lot better than cold toast.
So it's helpful to be able to take bread out of the package, stick it in the toaster, and put loaf of bread back where it belongs when convenient, then come back later and start the final step (actually toasting) at the exact right time.
(On a side note, in actual fact, I have never had a toaster. A toaster oven does everything a toaster does and more. You can make a hot sandwich with melted cheese, for example.)
There's no obvious danger caused by putting bread in the toaster and not immediately starting it.
>There's no obvious danger caused by putting bread in the toaster and not immediately starting it.
I don't get this. Is it an argument against the automatic toaster? Or are you advising me to keep my toaster unplugged until I'm ready to toast my bread because a toaster can be unreliable?
Or using a bag in a conventional toaster that lacks a cage:
Whilst I do agree with you, there is somewhat of a bathtub curve to toast temperature.
'hotel' cold toast, with very nearly melted butter is almost as nice as fresh hot buttered toast. Tepid toast isnt so good.
Ps a good overhead gas grill (broiler) is the best for toast, unfortunately most seem to be rubbish these days :(
It's like the retsina that tastes lovely in a Greek taverns, but take some home and it tastes awful.
Bloomberg recently covered high-end Japanese toasters:
It's kinda depressing that today our toasters are less useful and stop working 10x sooner.
And it lasted a loong time - 30 years or so.
Removing just the step of pushing down and fast return actually did make me appreciate it more.
But he is absolutely right when he pointed to the paper insulated wire as a truly hideous and terrifying thing. My toaster did eventually burst into flames, and that's about where I think the fire started. Hard to tell when looking at twisted metal.
I think this is a great example of the kind of things that planned obsolescence has killed. The design could probably have been improved, and the safety brought up to modern standards, through research and iteration.
However, why invest in making a better toaster when you can sell a $2 worth of toaster for $5 that will expire in less than two years?
Fire is likely to be caused by bread crumbs, since otherwise there is nothing combustible in the toaster (unlike the plastic-ful modern ones.)
This is the question of our Industrial Age. I think a nice example is VW (in a former life) w their beetle program. Well documented in Small Wonder under Heinz Nordhoff. Easy 50 years of incremental improvements and what seem like truly human- (Volks) oriented design decisions.
I was all ready to pooh-pooh this new fangled design from the 60s vs Dualit’s classic design from 1952; it’s the Technics SL1200 of the international toast scene.
Honestly though this design is ingenious! Video is well worth watching (assuming you like toasted bread comestibles).
Now if you’ll excuse I’m off for some afternoon crumpet.
--- which is around $300 and still selling. I think we need to rethink the reasons that the Sunbeam was discontinued.
It's mechanically simple, easily serviceable (four screws), and spares are readily available.
Don't forget to bring her some of your toast ;)
Keeping this on topic, Sid probably had one of these
This two part video on CEDs - which I didn't even know were a thing - is absolutely fascinating. The depth of research rivals any educational program on TV.
That's the most interesting part of this video to me. I was definitely taught this, and I never understood why because modern toasters don't have this problem (where the insides of the toaster may be connected to a live wire even when off). Funny how this kind of cultural knowledge persists after it's no longer relevant.
It's crazy to see just how unsafe appliances used to be. People maybe don't take that safety differential into account when lamenting the complexity and unreliability of modern stuff.
One other safety thing: it looks like this toaster may not raise small toast high enough to easily grab. Most toaster levers let you manually raise the toast higher than normal to retrieve it. Without a lever you are forced to reach into the hot slot and risk burns or electrocution to retrieve your toast before it cools.
This thing is a burn hazard, shock hazard, and fire hazard all in one.
That said, my father in law was the third generation owner of a large toaster company. He was appalled any time he saw someone using a toaster under a cabinet.
I remember reading about a remote tribe of people being appalled when a writer pitched his tent under a tree. Trees fall down. Why would you take such a risk?
Moral of the story is -- toasters are heating devices, so don't let them run unattended.
The standard American household with 2.3 kids has everything on the counter near the toaster.
For the "oven" style toasters there's an significant chance that there's something made out of either paper or plastic atop the metal roof ready to melt as well.
> Also why not unplug it when done?
And plug it back in every morning? That'd be unnecessarily annoying.
I always, and have always, pulled my toaster out on to a clear portion of the counter before using it, to make sure nothing is too close when it operates.
> And plug it back in every morning? That'd be unnecessarily annoying.
Again, that's how I have always done it.
Growing up, both of these things were considered Toaster Safety 101.
(I don't get it - Every socket where I live has a built in switch)
There's no room for a switch on the receptacle, and North America has used the same plug arrangement since the 1910s (a ground prong was added later, but an ungrounded lamp from 1915 is still compatible with modern receptacles). Changing it now is not likely to happen. It is possible to buy a combination unit with a receptacle and a switch on a single yolk and wire it up so that the switch controls the receptacle, but I've never seen it done.
A lot less annoying than waking up to a 3-alarm fire methinks...
I still unplug kitchen stuff when not in use and it's been a long time since I was a kid in the 70's when stuff could (and probably would) "fail hard" and burn down your house.
Since it has not had the cord replaced I have a switch at the outlet to turn off the power.
In fact the most likely vector to shock yourself is the plug on your vacuum cleaner, because it is so often plugged in and mistreated in the process. The materials and stress relievers have gotten better and it’s probably been 30 years since I’ve seen a frayed cord...
Well, except for my Apple power cords. sigh
Americans don't have time for this. They barely have time in the morning to grab their hot toast, hop on their Segway, or motorcycle, or rocket-ship, or what have you, and go go go go GO!
Love me some Americans.
"unpolarized cord" - good god, you mean you can plug most American appliances in either way round, and so random parts of them will be live? This is the worst country on earth!
"toaster strudels" - correction, this is the greatest country on earth.
The key to note, in most houses when the unpolarized stuff was new, there were alarmingly few ground sources nearby, so the fact that one side of the appliance was hot, doesn't actually matter that much - so while it's safer now, it wasn't that unsafe then. I'd also point out, these choices make more sense when you consider the lower voltage of US power distribution.
Some countries do have polarized connectors (UK, some Polish, France, Belgium, etc.) but many do not. However supposedly competent electricians sometimes connect them the wrong way round anyway or omit the earth or both as I discovered in France last year.
See this web page for a convenient list of mains connectors and countries that use them: https://www.worldstandards.eu/electricity/plugs-and-sockets/
Why on earth would you assume that?
This is the worst country on earth!
Could be, but we do know how to make appliances that are not dependent on which you plug them in. (Truth be told, I’m pretty sure a lot, if not most, other countries do, too.)
I am sure you can get the same effect in your country by just pouring a cup of sugar on each slice of toast.
Polarization and grounding enable designs that are even safer.
Assuming you'd want to replicate this thing with modern equipment, would it be cheaper and simpler with a servo and a µC?
Please note, whomever is using the name now is certainly not making a toaster of the same quality.
they weigh a good amount but that tends to be the case of anything from the forties and fifties.
Example auction of a 1B16 https://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-Toastmaster-1B16-Automatic-...
Great site for toasters https://toastercentral.com/toaster40s.htm
Today's toasters, at least the cheaper ones, seem to be based solely on time, and so it's unknowable how a particular kind of bread will behave. You have to watch it and be prepared to stop it early.
Bagels were a problem if the hole lined up with the sensor. I don't think store-bought bagels were a thing in our area until long after the toaster was made.
When the nichrome wire breaks (eventual common failure I think), wouldn't that cause a high risk of the live wire touching the body of the toaster?
Good video though. Pushing the toast down 3-4 times before realising the damn thing is unplugged is my signature move.
His channel is really interesting; even if like me you find his style a little irritating at first it really grows on you when you see that he really knows what he's talking about. One of my favorite channels next to Jeff Cavaliere (Athlean-X).
With a toaster, it's just drop the bread in and push the lever down. Then pull the toast out when done. It may not seem like a significant number of saved steps, but if you're doing it over and over again it adds up.
Unfortunately, Ic an't a video of it, or even proper product descriptions (it looks like they discontinued toasters). And yeah, it wasn't as consistent :)
I recently moved into a smaller space so put the toaster in my garage and just use the oven like we did when I was a kid. My watch tells me when to pull it out!
I bought a microwave oven which has a very good UI (buttons, knobs, layout, display).
Also: why do I fear the UI of anything with a German brand name?
Couple that with the fact that my toaster is also connected via 802.11g to the INTERNET where, naturally, I can view the toast progress via an iOS or Android app. A live feed of the toast progress is streamed to the app, and I can either cancel early or allow the bread to finish toasting. Upon finishing, a push notification is sent to my phone. Nice.
Lastly, and this is probably the highlight feature... I can share my toasting status to social. With the click of a button I can share a screen shot of my toast, WITH my choice of camera filter. Nothing says "ive got it better than you" than a picture of a perfectly toasted piece of toast with a christmas spirit filter.
...it is satire, right?