A chunk of bread on a stick could technically be considered a “retro toaster”. However, the design that comes to most people’s mind is the stylish chrome pop-up model that was introduced in the late 1930s, was popular through the 1960s and can still be found today (although it is generally agreed that the workmanship on the older models was superior).
Toastmaster was one of the first companies to use this design, releasing the first automatic electric toaster, Model 1-A-1, in 1926. These were popular toasters, and some were quite stylish in their own right, but the “classic” retro toasters were the Sunbeam models introduced a bit over a decade later. These were for the most part toasters with a simple polished metal housing that had an almost art deco feel. Many of these were in the “T” series (T1, T2, T3, etc.) and the most iconic toaster was the Sunbeam T9 Half-Round which was also called the World’s Fair Toaster as it was introduced in 1939, the same year as the New York World’s Fair and the design seemed to mirror the art deco architectural and design trends of the time.
Through the early 1960s there were many other styles of toasters introduced, but the model found in most kitchens remained a rounded shiny metal case, pop-up mechanism, and usually with a plastic base. As the 1960s progressed, the quality of most toasters declined (although the toasters became less expensive). The basic function remained the same, but styles varied, with more elaborate designs and the case often tended to be more square than round. Toasters from this era through the 1970s can be considered retro, but probably not “classic” retro.
By the 1980s, toaster ovens had become a very popular replacement for toasters, although “standard” toasters were still quite common. Toasters has also adapted to changing consumer habits, and many of them widened the openings so bagels could also be toasted. Both the price and quality continued to decline as manufacturing moved to China and other countries, and by the end of the 20th century there were no domestic toaster manufactures left in the United States.
The early retro toasters were well made, and many are still in service (having few moving parts also helps keep them in running order). Refurbished models can cost several hundred dollars, especially the most sought after toasters such as the Sunbeam T9 (something to keep in mind if you’re at a garage sale and see one!). Fortunately, a number of manufacturers produce replicas of the classic toaster models, including the Sunbeam T9, are available at a much more reasonable cost. Toasters made in the style of “retro” toasters are also available. While these toasters aren’t replicas of any specific model the designs are similar to what might be found during the 1940s through 1960s. Again, these are often much less expensive than original toasters from that period.