Monday, May 11, 2009

Heritage: The Toaster That Never Stops

A 1940's era GE toaster was still in daily use in Kennewick, Washington on 11-May-2009

KENNEWICK, WASHINGTON - "They don't make them like they used to." Anyone who has watched an electronic (or electronically enhanced) product cease functioning just days after its warranty expired understands that sentence. Nothing in my life, though, stands as so symbolic of the truth of that statement than the toaster still used by my grandparents in this south-central Washington city.

I've lost track of how many toasters I've already owned in my relatively brief life. I seem to remember purchasing one for $20 at Sears in Cambridge, Massachusetts once--I'm pretty sure that one only lasted two years, since I didn't have it by the time of my last move in Somerville, Massachusetts in 2004. The current toaster I own must be at least the fourth I've purchased in the last twelve years, and considering that I purchased it nearly three years ago at Sears Canada, it's probably about ready to stop functioning.

Contrast that with the toaster I have had the pleasure of using at my grandparents' house since my arrival a few days ago. The chrome toaster was purchased not long after World War II--my grandfather isn't certain exactly when they bought it, but he's pretty sure they had it when their twins were born in 1948. So, it's clear that the toaster has been in operation for at least sixty years--as long as my paternal aunt and uncle have been alive.

Not only has it lasted an amazing length of time, but it works extremely efficiently. I haven't timed it, but it clearly makes toast in less time than any toaster I have ever owned. The process to clean it is reasonable, and I suppose its only flaw is that it is possible to burn toast if the operator sets the darkness control to too high of a setting. That's a pretty minor issue since it is easily avoided--nobody questions that my grandparents have received their money's worth out of this device.

If it ever stops working, there is agreement in the family that it needs to be preserved, with several volunteers to ensure it will have a new home. General Electric built a good product in the late 1940's, and we will keep it around to remind people that "they don't make them like they used to."

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