GE Toaster - Streamlined breakfast.

I have a toaster, and it's kind of shaped like this domey one from the December 1950 issue of Look magazine, but probably won't last as long as this one did. I have no proof. That's just a guess.

It's got that rounded streamlining that everything had in the forties and fifties. Plus, if you look at the bottom half - that dark brown plastic - I think that's bakelite I'm looking at.

Bakelite was a kind of early plastic that  was made from wood filler. It's production involved formaldehyde, and the process was smelly and kind of complicated, compared with that of plastic. Plastic kind of made Bakelite obsolete, which is part of the reason that old bakelite products are so collectible now: hardly anybody makes it any more.

There are still a few niche uses for it, though - mostly industrial applications where plastic just won't do. Why's that? Well, bakelite (sometimes called "phenolic" by old timers like my dad) has a few interesting properties that differ from plastic. Normal plastic melts at a fairly low temperature. Your stove will melt most standard plastics. But bakelite is a "thermoset polymer", which means that after it's initial liquid state, it hardens forever and can't be melted. Epoxy resin is another kind of thermoset resin that you may be familiar with. Once you mix the two tubes of goo, let no man nor god make them soft again. So let it be written! The curing process for epoxy can be sped up with heat. After curing, these materials can be destroyed with enough heat, of course, but they don't so much melt as simply burn. The top end of bakelite's thermal tolerance is not easy to find online. Elm industries says that phenolics can tolerate 450 degrees. They seem pretty geeky with the plastics and stuff, so I'll take their word for it. I do know that like most plastics, bakelite really really stinks when it burns, and probably causes neurorlroguical probelmkns and drain bamamge.

Carbon fiber is exciting high-tech stuff at the moment, so much so that auto manufacturers sometimes decorate their steering wheels and dash boards with it, even though it was developed as a structural material. So it once was with bakelite. Bakelite jewelry can be found at most antique stores, but don't expect it to be out on a shelf. You'll probably find it in a glass case, and it will be surprisingly expensive. Like I said, people collect the crap out of it.

Thermoset resins are useful for situations where you want something lighter than metal but with higher heat tolerance than plastic, and less likely to shatter than ceramic. So, parts for electrical components, brakes, and - ta da! - toasters are all common applications for bakelite. Want some? You can buy it in sheets here. It kind of looks like reddish brown wood, with the cross section having a finely layered look. It's weird stuff.

Anyway, the top of this ad shows a little cartoon Santa. Some weird decisions were made here. Why does his empty toy sack figure so prominently in panels two and three? It doesn't even appear in panel one. Judging by this little comic, I'd guess that GE were either selling sacks or chairs.

Photographing reflective objects presents its own challenges. You need to keep the camera from being seen in the surface. This toaster shot was nicely done. Knowing that the toaster would be shown against a white background, they surrounded it with white cards, so it wouldn't look weird. You can see the studio lights in the dark areas at the "corners" of the toaster. They arranged the white cards so that the lines of the toaster would be accentuated by the black reflections, to show off the swoopy shape. Where's the camera? Probably right between the two white panels near the front-facing corner of the toaster. Clever.

Graphic gift time. Here are the Santas from today's picture, presented to you in vivid JPEG  format lovingly compressed. The backgrounds are solid white, as opposed to transparent alpha channel, because tracing around all the trees would have been a pain. I'm not MADE of pen tools, people! Big and small. Left and right. Right click them onto your hard drive for easy Christmas e-card pasting in three, two, one...

881 x 1200
220 x 300

1200 x 901
300 x 225

1200 x 990
300 x 248

1200 x 1047
300 x 262


MrsBug said...

We have a toaster like that from my grandmother. Use it frequently, weekly, nay daily. Works great.

Steve Miller said...

More Santa-adage* here: http://todaysinspiration.blogspot.com/2011/12/countdown-to-christmas-continues-with_14.html

You'll find that this is part 5 or 6 or something...

BTW, my dad used "phenolic" too, using followed by "board." He was talking about the stuff with the fibers in your buy it here link. As you note, this is used for electrical components. And for stuff like engine timing gears because it runs more quietly. However, when not moving, phenolic gear teeth do not stand up to whirring steel gears. DAMHIK. But it involves an orange Volvo station wagon...

*think: wordage, get it?

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Mrs B, I'm jealous of your vintage toaster. I'm sure the resulting daily toast tastes like rich, buttery time. I had an old toaster from the eighties that, when the toast was complete, allowed it to slowly rise up instead of violently flinging it up. This was very civilized and I was saddened when the toaster quit doing anything at all. I think dad was still around then, and he pronounced it unfixable. So, out it went.

Thanks for the link Steve. I've seen this dailyinspiration thing before. I'd accuse him of stealing my schtick if his blog didn't predate mine. Screw it. I say he's still horning in.

Thanks for your continuing readage, both of you.


Anonymous said...

I you really want to get your Bakelite freak on, the McMaster-Carr company sells it in black as well as "natural", and in many more configurations:


They call it "Garolite", since "Bakelite" is actually a registered trademark, though in practice it's become a generic term like Vaseline and Kleenex.

And for the uninitiated, it's pronounced "bay-ka-lite" not "bake-lite".

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Bug's toaster points out something wrong in modern society.

Back in the days when her toaster was made, toasters were not cheap! People got them for wedding presents. It would be like paying $50+ for a toaster at today's prices. Why do that when a toaster made in China costs about $10-15 bucks?

Because that $50 toaster still makes good toast fifty years later, and the modern Chinese-made toaster is a piece of crap.

My family had a chrome Sunbeam toaster with bakelite base like that. It made toast all through my childhood and beyond. If it broke, it would be taken to a appliance repair shop and fixed for a few dollars.

But the current $15 Chinese toaster lasts a year or two and isn't worth fixing - even if appliance repair shops still existed. So it gets thrown out, and in the end the toast consumer pays FAR more for their buttery fix over the years, dumps valuable raw materials into landfills, sends manufacturing jobs overseas, puts appliance repair shops out of business – all for the pleasure of thinking, "Wow! Only $12.99 for a toaster at Wal-Mart? That's CHEAP!"

No, it's what my grandma called "penny-wise and pound-foolish!"

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

All very true. In a few years, the only appliance in the kitchen will be the 3-d printer. It will cost several thousand dollars and will be worth repairing, because of the expense. You will simply have the 3-d printer construct whatever food you want, out of whatever material you want. The construction material will be chosen based on the individual consumant's needs for nutrition and/or heat resistance, tensile strength, and strength to weight ratio.


Comatoast said...

I fully support the 3d food printing motion. I only eat hot glue sticks as it is. It would taste so much better if my ethylene-vinyl acetate was burger shaped. Though this surge in copolymer consumption may be very hazardous to the environment. We better buy organic.......

Ermott said...


You'll never guess.

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