As soon as electricity became more widely available early in the 20th century, inventors, designers and manufacturers began a race to see who could put a small appliance on the market that would grab the most customers.
Guess what? That race is still going on at the end of the first decade of the 21st century!
Those early inventors had some good ideas. They also had some nutty ones but at least they believed in innovation and weren’t just copying the other guy.
The world was very different them, even before the Great Depression wages were low, there was no minimum wage law and many working people lived in rented rooms with no real kitchen, usually just a sink and if they were lucky, an ice box. No stove, no oven, no way to prepare a meal. They were dependent on the rooming house cook, if meals were part of the deal (room & board) and often the food was pretty bad. There were exceptions but the rooming house owner was also trying to make ends meet. For many women, whose husbands were away working on WPA projects, this was the only way they could afford to keep their homes.
Often electricity was only available via a meter that required a coin be deposited for a specific amount of time. Many of the early small appliances were designed to be stingy on electrical use.
So that’s the way it was for most people and that’s why I always chuckle when people wish for the “good old days” because they weren’t all that great, except for people with money.
While most of the appliances were designed for a specific task, a few were multi-purpose and marketed to those people with limited income and limited cooking space.
The Breakfaster, made by the Calkins company, had a hotplate on top and a drawer underneath where you could toast bread. There were also stackable table-top stove cookers with multiple pans and griddles. One was made by The Universal Landers, Frary and Clark Company.
Appliances from the Elegant Past
Designers of electrical appliances made for food preparation began to produce things that were attractive and intended for display, not just relegated to the kitchen. Sideboards in dining rooms held coffee urns that were beautiful as well as useful. Servers made to keep foods at serving temperature were also displayed and used on the sideboard.
As fewer homes had domestic servants, the homemaker bought small appliances that allowed her to prepare foods at the table and remain with her family and/or guests.
Toasters, waffle irons, sandwich presses, chafing dishes and other small appliances, attractively designed, were used at the table and not hidden away in the kitchen.
The list of manufacturers is practically endless. Some companies appeared on the scene early, had moderate success but faded after a few years because of failing to innovate. Others prospered for decades and either were bought up by other companies or faded to obscurity because of poor management as the founders passed the company on to a younger generation.
Some companies produced superior products and had high standards and sold their products at premium prices.
One of these was Manning-Bowman whose company slogan was MB Means Best and this was also their logo: during the 1930s.
Other companies turned out many appliances at the low end, using lighter materials, less interior wiring and aimed to produce cheap products for people who could not afford the higher prices.
In between were companies who turned out appliances that were serviceable, were made to last but lacked the high style of the premium offerings. These were the companies that lasted the longest and many of those appliances remained in service for many years.
Here are a few examples of those appliances.
The Sunbeam ToastWitch ca. 1933.
This actually belongs on the Toasters page as it is a “flatbed” toaster that toasted both sides at the same time.
Calkins Breakfaster Model T2
This interesting combination hot plate and toaster was made by the Calkins Appliance Co., Niles, MI
This too exhibits the Art Deco styling of the 1930s when this appliance was manufactured in 1936. The shell and interior are all made of aluminum. The “grill” sides are completely open. This allowed for the heat to escape so it was of little use as an “oven” and the toast could only be browned on one side at a time.
The appliance was awkward to use and was only manufactured for two years. There was no On/Off switch and the plug had to be pulled to turn it off. The overall size with the handles is 11 inches long, 8 inches deep and 5 inches high, the same footprint as a small toaster. But it was much less efficient at toasting bread. I don’t think it really worked well as a hot plate either. I’ve seen a number appear for sale marked “as new” and in my opinion it was because it really wasn’t all that useful, so folks put them away. Fortunately for those of us who collect, they did not all go to the wartime scrap drives.
This one was apparently seldom, if ever, used as there are no heat marks on the white porcelain insulator inside the appliance. The outer shell has a few dings, the bakelite is perfect and the original power cord is as near perfect as one can find on a 74-year-old appliance.
This was advertised as an appliance on which one could “cook your oatmeal on top and toast your bread” at the same time.
Manning-Bowman Buffet Server
A server with two containers to keep foods hot. This one from 1937.
While this electric Everhot Roaster, ca. 1937, was made to be used in the kitchen, it also was designed to be attractive with its lovely Art Deco design.
This Everhot roaster was never used and is in pristine condition. The electric cord is still coiled and the original (but very fragile) cellophane wrapper is still with it.
The original “porcelain” sticker is still on the inside bottom of the roasting pan.
The ID plate shows that this originally had an “A” series imprint but it has been overstruck with a “B” which dates it to mid-1937. The design remained essentially the same until 1940.
Note that it also specifies that it be used “Only with Alternating Current.”
It was promoted as a healthy way of cooking. The electric roaster does not use up the oxygen in the house…..
The index, a list of accessories and replacement parts with prices
and a list of other Everhot appliances.
Everhot Clock Timer
More classic Art Deco design!
Patent No. 2,182,894 – Filed Mar 2, 1938 – The Swartzbaugh Mfg. Co.
This is a wind-up clock that also includes an electric supply so that appliances (such as the Everhot Electric Roaster) could be plugged in and the ON and OFF times controlled by the clock timer.
This was in the 1930s and essentially works the same as today’s “programmable” cookers.
Amazing idea for seventy-some years ago!
The clock timer has holes in the base and an inner cast iron weight so it won’t tip over when set on a counter
and the “gimbal” mount allows it to swing so it could be mounted on a wall or other vertical surface.
The only timers that allow that today are the magnetic ones and you have to have a surface that actually will hold a magnet.
Why don’t they make regular timers so they can be mounted on a wall or cabinet?
Westinghouse Roaster Oven, Pink
Sunbeam Automatic Egg Cooker
Here’s a Sunbeam automatic egg cooker:
Some people on seeing this, make reference to “Robbie the Robot” from “Forbidden Planet.”
Rooster, Hens and Chicks Egg cooker
This is a cute little ceramic egg cooker that holds just four eggs (breakfast for two) for soft or hard boiled.
It has no On/Off switch so one has to use a separate timer and unplug the cooker when the eggs are ready.
There is no manufacturers name on the cooker but it does state: Made in USA.
It has never been used.
Remington Egg Poacher/Cooker
This is the same Remington Company that made electric shavers and hair dryers. This is from the 1970s and was used very little.
Dominion Popcorn Popper
Electric corn poppers are another small appliance that appeared early on and were rapidly refined and redesigned, especially during the 1930s.
This one is an early Dominion Popcorn Popper, with a stirring crank, from the later 1920s.
Toaster Central.com has some lovely photos and descriptions of Popcorn Poppers from the 1930s to the early 1970s. (Some are for sale.)
Manning-Bowman Smokeless Table Broiler
Look at this neat tabletop broiler manufactured by Manning-Bowman in 1941. It sold new in March ’41 for $11.95.
Yet again this was an example of an appliance that was designed to be used at the table and not relegated to the kitchen. This was a time when fewer people had servants and the homemaker was offered these appliances so she could prepare the meal while interacting with her guests.
This is a heavy metal, fully chromed, piece, still exhibiting the Art Deco influence. Not many survived the scrap metal drives of WWII.
It has its original cord and the booklet that came with it. It was never used.
Note the other items manufactured by Manning, Bowman & Co.
“Twin-O-Matic” Waffle Baker”
Many writers have described M-B as the “Cadillac” of small appliance manufacturers.
JitterBuzz has a segment about the “Smokeless Table Broiler” on this page:
The Manning-Bowman Smokeless Table Broiler
Scroll down the page a bit more than half-way.
This is another of my favorites. It is a “Continental” copper blender with the body manufactured by the La Belle Silver Co., Glendale, Long Island, New York in 1957. Date is on the front control panel. The base is styled somewhat like the “beehive” design that was originated by Waring in 1938. (The Oster with the “beehive” base did not appear until 1946).
The motor and electric controls were made by GE.
The base is heavy, wrapped with solid copper, not plated, and the glass is very thick and heavy. The base of the glass does not detach, the blade shaft is secured by a hub nut and the seal is still intact and does not leak after 53 years!
The lid does not lock onto the glass so has to be held to prevent a “volcano” effect.
The original Waring blender was originally developed by inventor Fred Osius in 1936 who obtained financial backing from Fred Waring, a bandleader and singer who had a popular radio show and used that venue to sell the blenders. This was ten years before the Oster Liquidizer.
History of the Waring Blender.
Webalco Stainless Steel Electric Skillet, Poacher, Chafer, made by West Bend Co.
This is an electric skillet made by the West Bend Company in the early 1970s, with the division name of Webalco, the top of the line appliances made by this company.
It is an “oil-core” skillet, very heavy, stainless steel. It has an insert with removable cups for poached eggs. The lid can be inverted and set over simmering water in the skillet bottom to perform as a chafing dish.
It operated at a higher temperature than most other electric skillets of that time with a top setting of 450° F. This one was never used.
A very versatile and unusual appliance.
This little “stove” hotplate was made by the Hilco Engineering Company in Chicago, Illinois. It is marked, “Pat. Pending” and a patent search does not come back with any patent number.
Unlike other hot plates, this one has a lever that elevates the grid 1 1/2 inches above the heat element.
It is quite small. The heat element and the grid are just 4 1/2 inches in diameter and the overall height with the grid flat is 6 inches and 7 1/2 with it fully elevated.
I think this would make anything on it very top-heavy and I don’t see this as being at all safe to use.
I have been told that there were utensils made to be used on it that had a depression in the bottom that would allow a snug fit onto the grill but I have not seen these, nor have I been able to find any ads for this “stove” or any accessories. So far, this is just hearsay.
I’ve plugged it in and the element heats rapidly and gets quite hot. There is no On/Off switch.