Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Episode 178: Who Invented the Electric Toaster? Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 178: Who invented the Electric Toaster?

Record Date: January 16, 2023

Air Date: January 18, 2023



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Shauna Harrison


And I’m Dan Pugh

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Opening Hook

This week we’re going to do something a little different. We all know that we shouldn’t believe everything we read on the internet. But sometimes we do a quick search which reveals numerous citations and it seems easy to accept without really looking into it. It’s happened to many people, including us. This week we are going to look into something I got wrong on a previous show; Who invented the electric toaster?


In episode 159: Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, we explored the origins of sliced bread (specifically bread that was pre-sliced and then packaged for mass sale), which originated in Chillicothe, Missouri, USA around 1928. Which is true. We had many, many sources for this one. And we said the electric toaster was created before pre-sliced bread was made. Which is also true. But the question of WHO invented the electric toaster is where our misinformation campaign comes in. And this one is a doozy.

Back in July of 2022, I did a quick search to see when the electric toaster was invented. There were several citations and I didn’t bother to chase them all down because this was sort of a side-fact and not the purpose of the story. In the show, I read an article from the website of a popular baking company, which mentioned Alan MacMasters as the inventor in the fall of 1883. Which is bogus. It’s not that it was incorrect because we learned someone else did it first as more historical documents are digitized and easily searchable. It is incorrect because it is made up. A hoax. Intentional misinformation. 

Before we get into the meat and potatoes of it, I want to say you should check out the show notes for this one as they are chock full of citations. I spent many hours looking for other sources and outcomes to ensure this whole thing wasn’t a hoax about a hoax, or satire that I just didn’t understand. 

But no… this is true. I’ll turn to the BBC who wrote about what they dubbed, “The great online toaster hoax” in November 2022. 


For more than a decade, a prankster spun a web of deception about the inventor of the electric toaster. His lies fooled newspapers, teachers and officials. Then a teenager flagged up something that everyone else had missed.

End Quote

The article goes on to identify a 15 year old who was studying photography and noticed the wikipedia image of Alan MacMasters seemed to be an edited photo. And the investigation led to the removal of the Wikipedia page for Alan MacMasters and the addition of a short paragraph about MacMasters and the ordeal to the Reliability of Wikipedia page instead. It also led, as the BBC reports, to the Scottish government’s Brand Scotland website to remove the so-called inventor from their website and the Bank of England to remove MacMasters from their suggested list of notable people to appear on the 50 pound note.

So how did all of these places get fooled? Again, from the BBC.


On 6 February 2012, Alan (MacMasters) was at a university lecture, when the class was warned against using Wikipedia as a source. To hammer the point home, the lecturer said that a friend of his - one "Maddy Kennedy" - had named himself on the site as the inventor of the toaster.

Alan and his classmates found the story "amusing" but pondered correcting the article - after all, one of Wikipedia's distinguishing features is that pretty much anyone can edit it.

Sitting right next to Alan was one of his closest friends, Alex, who volunteered to do the editing himself. Alex recalls: "I just changed it so that it said that my friend, who sat next to me, Alan MacMasters, had in fact invented the toaster in Edinburgh in 1893 (sic).

"We had no idea who invented the toaster."

Internet history had just been made, but Alan was not bothered.

"Alex is a bit of a joker, it's part of why we love him," he says. "The article had already been vandalised anyway, it was just changing the nature of the incorrect information. I thought it was funny, I never expected it to last."

End Quote 

Nearly a year later, Alex saw the incorrect information was still up. So he set about adding more to the fiction. And before you know it, newspapers, websites, and governments were using the fake information as true. Everytime someone mentioned Alan MacMasters as the inventor, Alex updated the wiki with yet another citation. 

It all came crashing down in 2022 when a 15 year old from Kent thought the photo was sketchy. And it didn’t take long for the information to be scrubbed from Wikipedia. We’ll link to an archived version of Alan MacMasters page, the Reliability of Wikipedia article, and the BBC article in the show notes at and on our Patreon,

Since Wikipedia took down the offending entry, as they should, I wanted to read what they mention on their reliability of Wikipedia section


In August 2022, Wikipedia criticism site Wikipediocracy published an interview with a hoaxer who ten years prior had added a hoax to Wikipedia, claiming that an "Alan MacMasters" had invented the electric toaster. The false information was widely reproduced online as well as in newspapers and books subsequently cited in Wikipedia

End Quote 

There is a pretty good article on circular reporting by Annie Rauwerda on, which we will explore in our Behind the Scenes section for Patrons. But if you are not a Patron and want to read it, we’ll link to it on the show notes. 

And if you want to read an article that interviewed the guy who created the hoax, we’ll link to that, too. 

So… who did invent the toaster? We will dive into that after a quick word from our sponsors.

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon.

You can help support this educational artform and get awesome perks along the way! Tiers start at $3 a month, which get you our polls and community-only discussions, early access to the podcast, and the behind the scenes video for each episode so you can watch along as we make the show. 

At $10 you’ll also get original digital artwork from Shauna once a month featuring exclusive art about an idiom or other turn of phrase. At $15, you’ll also get personal on-air recognition like Pat Rowe does every episode. And of course huge thanks goes to the top spot among our Patrons, our Dean of Learning, Mary Halsig-Lopez. Thank you so much to Mary and all of our patrons. 

If you want to help create Bunny Trails week after week, whatever your budget, we are bunnytrailspod on Patreon. 


Who invented the toaster?

The BBC article notes it may be Frank Shailor, who submitted a US patent for a toaster in 1909 on behalf of the General Electric company. I will also be including a link to the patent itself because I just want to make sure I’m going directly to the actual source for the information and not just taking the BBCs word for it. I noted in the patent that it was granted Feb 22, 1910. 

In addition to going to the patent, I kept searching for other contenders. Here is one listed by the Hagley Museum in Wilmington, Delaware which notes the first US patent for an electric toaster was 1906, filed by George Schneider of the American Electrical Heater Company. Though the Hagley Museum does note that Frank Shailor’s electric toaster was the first commercially successful model, which used a different alloy for the filament than American Electrical Heater Company did.

I looked up the patent for this one, too. It was granted July 17, 1906, but it was first filed June 6, 1905.

But I found numerous examples in newspapers in 1907 running April to June in New Mexico, before Frank Shailor had even filed for his patent, of the Pacific Electric Toaster being advertised. Here’s an example from April 7, 1907 out of the Albuquerque Morning Journal, New Mexico

I’ll add another confusing component to the mix. This is from the Los Angeles Herald on September 16, 1906 in an advertisement for a company, The Electric Heating and Manufacturing Company, seeking investors for their general manufacturing business focused on electrical heating and cooking appliances. In the full page spread, there is very clearly an electric toaster, which they claim toasts both sides at once. It looks  like a briefcase, like how a waffle maker, quesadilla maker, or George Foreman grill might work. The bread goes in, you close the lid, and both sides get toasted. 

They even say the company owns all the patents and has exclusive control of them in the USA and Canada. 

But even though they clearly have a toaster in the paper, I can’t find a patent for it specifically. They list several patents which are all about the process of regulating the flow of current or improving on a heating source. I think the electric toaster in question falls under US patent US760076A by George I Leonard, filed in 1903 and granted in 1904. It seems to describe what I see in the newspaper, but it doesn’t mention bread or toast specifically. So maybe George Leonard invented the first electric toaster, but he didn’t realize that is what it could be used for when he patented it. 

But the mystery deepens with these two articles from the 1880s. 

The first is from the Capital Journal out of Salem, Oregon September 23, 1893. It is commenting on the cost of electrical cooking.


A Southern Estimate of the Expense of Preparing a Meal at Home. As to the cost of electric cooking, a few figures from a letter to the London Electrical Review are pertinent.

End Quote

So I’m immediately tipped off to the UK. I’ll move down to about halfway through the article.


The electric toaster will toast two large slices of bread thoroughly in one minute. The toaster will consume 14 amperes at 50 volts. Allowing 15 minutes, one could readily toast a loaf of bread at a cost for electric power of 1 and ⅙ cents. 

End Quote

Those are actual numbers, which makes me think this device did exist. 

Here is the second article I mentioned, about 10 months earlier from the last article I read. This one is from The Ketchum Keystone out of Idaho, USA July 23, 1892.

This is two different American newspapers in 1892 and 1893 talking about how the English have already created an electric toaster. 

I went to the British Newspaper Archives to see if I could find any mention of electric toasters. But the first I found was in 1904 and alas, that is where the trail stopped for now. 

I did see some people mention R.E.B Crompton of Crompton and Company out of Leeds, England as the first inventor. Crompton was an electrical engineer and inventor and was making things during the 1880s, but I couldn’t find any Great Britain patents specific to a toaster. Everything I found under Crompton and Company for patents were other electrical items. But here’s the rub. Rookes Evelyn Bell Crompton is a real person who did own a real electrical engineering company. But he was also included in the wikipedia hoax. So I don’t know if he did have an electric toaster and the MacMaster hoax was tied into him, or if he was selected for the hoax because he was an electrical engineer and in lended more credibility to the farce. Either way, without any evidence I’m not willing to list him as someone who made an electric toaster.

So the inventor of the electric toaster may have been someone from the UK and it may have been in the 1880s. Some American newspapers of the time certainly thought there was a working UK version in use in 1892 and 1893. But the one thing we can say for sure… it wasn’t Alan MacMasters. 

Wrap Up

I guess the point that should be made here is no, seriously, don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Even if it is said by someone you trust. Even if it is said by reputable sources. If it doesn’t sound or look right, learn more about it. If it weren’t for a 15 year old kid in Kent, we would still be talking about a fake 1800s scientist as if he invented an everyday household appliance. Even though we don’t actually know who did it, I think it’s better to not know than to have a wrong answer be used as fact. 


That’s about all we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included, reach out to us on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod, or comment on our website


It’s Patron Poll time!

This week we asked our Patrons, 

Generally when shopping, what is your preference? Online, or in-store?

67% said they prefer to shop online. 

Our Patron Jan wrote


I love grocery shopping in person, but if I'm looking for something specific in other types of goods I'll go online unless I'm absolutely sure a local store has it. I'll try to give the mom & pop shops first chance.

End Quote


I feel the same way as Jan about wanting to support local stores. I try to do that when possible, but the most of my shopping is groceries and I do that online and then do curbside pickup at the store. It keeps me from impulse buying, it allows me to add something if I forget, at least for a little while after I placed the order, and I don’t have to go inside the store to compete with everyone else. And I’ve never had them pick bad fruits or vegetables, which was frankly my biggest fear. One time they gave me a wrong item, but it took me 5 minutes online to get a refund. They told me I didn’t need to bring it back to the store, either. They said I could use it, or give it away to someone else who might need it. 


I think I actually prefer not to shop at all. I get too distracted or engrossed in it and then I always feel like I wasted my time, even if I’m just getting something specific. I shop for the best item and the best price. Then I don’t even want to buy anything anymore. If it’s an option, I’ll go with local, small businesses for gifts and the like. Otherwise, I’m better off with online shopping. 

As a reminder, our silly polls mean absolutely nothing and are not scientifically valid. But Patrons of all levels get to take part. Head over to to take this week’s poll!



Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember, 


Words belong to their users. 

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