Breakfast time around the world changed dramatically after an Iowa native, Charles Perkins Strite, invented the pop-up toaster.
An early method of making toast was to hold bread over a flame using a toasting fork or frame. Then came an electric toaster using an iron heating element that often became brittle after several uses.
In the early 1900s, the iron wiring was replaced with nickel and chromium, but that version of the toaster toasted bread on only one side. The toast maker had to monitor the appliance and turn the bread to toast the other side.
Perkins invented the pop-up toaster in Stillwater, Minn., where he was living in 1919. The toast in the cafeteria where he ate was always burned, he said. So he invented a toaster that fixed the problem.
Perkins was born in Springville in Linn County on Feb. 27, 1878. Not much is known of his childhood, but he moved to Marion in 1900, marrying Rachel Morris of nearby Whittier around 1902.
Strite was working as a machinist at the T.M. Sinclair meatpacking plant in Cedar Rapids when he witnessed a fatal accident at the plant in March 1905.
A hoist on the outside of the plant — which lifted salt to the plant’s third floor using a friction pulley — malfunctioned.
The Gazette reported the hoist was run “by a heavy rope cable, operating over a 14-inch drum, suspended upon brackets from the ceiling at a point 30 feet south of the door” where the salt was unloaded.
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The rope operating the hoist slackened, and workers backed away as the rope flew over the drum flange and caught in the pulley. A witness said Frank Roemer tried to grab the rope and pull it back over the flange. Instead. the countershaft caught the bib of Roemer’s overalls and wound around the shaft, killing Roemer.
After the accident, Strite began working on a better pulley drive. Four years later, he patented a variable speed pulley drive.
In 1912, he acquired another patent for his invention of a governor pulley device. That was followed by another patent in 1914 for a governor pulley device for the Cedar Rapids Foundry and Machine Co. that regulated the speed of cream separators.
The Strite family moved to Minneapolis in 1912, where Strite worked as an engineer in the Minneapolis Coin Counting Machine Co. factory.
When his wife died in 1915, Strite accompanied her body back to Iowa, arriving by train in Cedar Rapids on Dec. 6. Her funeral was held Dec. 7 in Whittier.
Strite later married Kaye Follase. The Strites were living in Stillwater when Strite invented his pop-up toaster for restaurant kitchens.
“My invention relates to bread toasters,” he wrote in his patent application in 1920. “An object is to provide a bread toaster, preferably electrically heated, in which the bread will be uniformly toasted on both sides at the same time without light and dark spots and without danger of burning the toast even if it is not being watched by the operator.
“Another object is to provide a device of this character in which the operator will be apprised of the fact that the toasting operation is completed without the necessity of inspecting the toast.
“I accomplish the objects of my invention by providing means for conveying the bread to be toasted through an oven and which carries the toast out of the oven when the toasting operation is finished.”
Strite received his patent in 1921.
Strite partnered with the Waters-Genter Co. to manufacture and sell Strite’s Toastmasters for commercial use. By 1926, the company had developed a one-slice toaster for home use. The Toastmasters toasted bread on both sides at the same time and had a timer that popped up when the toast was done.
Move TO Chicago, California
Strite next moved to Chicago to work for the Chicago Coin Meter Co., advertised as the manufacturer of “Chicago’s authorized Maytag and Bendix coin-metered washing machines for apartment houses and hotels.” He became the company’s president.
When he retired, he moved to California.
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Charles Strite, the father of seven, was 78 when he died in 1956. He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif.