New and Improved!!

By Eilene Lyon


How often have you seen this label on a product you’ve been buying for years? New? Maybe so. Improved? Well, I usually have my doubts about that.

I’ll grant that automobiles have become much safer and more fuel efficient since the early 1900s. They’re also more comfortable and have myriad gizmos to distract us from what we should be doing – paying attention to the road.

But so many consumer staples haven’t really improved all that much. They just look different. Take the lowly electric toaster, for example.

Here’s what they looked like in the 1920s:

1920s toasterelec appl

The Putterer remembers this style of toaster from his childhood (sorry, before my time!) and he assures me they were a great way to burn your hands, not just the bread.


By the post-WWII era, the pop-up toaster had been invented, sparing us the fried fingers part of breakfast. Note the price:

1940s toaster

So what do we have today? The same old pop-up electric toaster they had in the 1940s! They just come with slightly different aesthetics from year to year. The basic operation hasn’t really changed in 80 years.

Does the toast really taste better? Perhaps that requires “new and improved” bread. Or maybe a “new and improved” (i.e. larger) house to put all the gadgets in.

When I moved to Durango in 1985 I didn’t have much money, so I bought all my kitchen appliances at the thrift store: percolator, fryer, and yes, a good ol’ pop-up toaster. They worked great, and were heavy-duty, too. I think the newer ones are probably not built as well and don’t last. Think about how long your parents or grandparents had the things they owned.

Note the price, compared to the 1949 version, above.

What we’re really doing is just mindlessly using up resources to manufacture stuff, in order to get the latest thing, something that replaces what we already have that still works (or can be repaired). This is the crux of capitalist consumerism.

New? Improved?

What’s your take?

37 thoughts on “New and Improved!!

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  1. This was fun! I bought an old round waffle iron (like the one in the ad) at Ab’s Junk Yard in Mountain Home, Idaho, around 1968 (when Guy was in the Air Force at the base there, before Vietnam). It reminded me of my grandmother’s, which fit the plate when I was little. We used it for years without even thinking about the asbestos electrical cord it had!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I also had an old waffle iron when I was first married, from the estate of my grandfather’s cousin. The elements kept burning through, but my husband would just open it up and fuse the wires back together. It finally gave up the ghost for good after about ten years.


  2. A memory jerking post! I really can’t remember my parents buying ANYTHING new across the 1950s when I was growing up. We didn’t have a toaster, a washing machine or a tv. We didn’t have a car either, nor a fridge. We had a gas cooker and a radio, but I cannot remember any other appliances in the house. When I was 15 I wanted a “tape recorder” to record the new stuff from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, …… we had a choice, save up my pocket money or buy it on the HP ……. almost a sin in those days to buy anything on credit. So, I had save my pocket money for a whole year, but I can even remember the first song I recorded from the radio, Not Fade Away, The Rolling Stones.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Most things were made to last in the ‘old days’ but not all… and in fact, I’ve never had a toaster that lasted more than a few years and that includes the ones I used in the my twenties (a long time ago!) … Now vacuum cleaners and irons were different… they really did last. But yeah, this ‘new and improved’ thing is pure and simple hype and always has been.

    My mother always made toast in the grill part of her cooker. I think it was the only time I’ve ever had toast that was done properly – you could see when it was getting the right colour, turn it over and do wait again, and – perfect! These days I’m without a toaster…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I imagine the gimmick to make things wear out has been around a long time. I remember someone saying one time that rustproofing a car was un-American.

      We don’t have a toaster, but use a toaster oven. It doesn’t make the best toast, but I bake everything in it. I rarely use the bigger oven (which is smaller than standard at only 24″). We had the last toaster oven for probably over 20 years.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Is that one of those little table-top ovens? I’d wondered about one years ago but have cupboards above nearly all the work surfaces in my kitchen. My two ovens (one of which has a grill) don’t work, so I got an airfryer… I suspect I could do toast in it but haven’t tried!

        I’m smiling at the idea that rust-proofing a car would be un-American!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve always wanted a vintage toaster, because I reckon they have to work better than the modern equivalent. I’ve bought plenty of retro-look ones, but they always seem to stop working after only a year. I’m hoping my current model hangs on longer than that because I splurged on a Dualit (with a manual lever, because the pop-up function was what broke on the last two toasters. I’ve regressed!) in the hopes the quality would be better. No major problems so far, but it does have a tendency to burn the toast on one side if you don’t keep an eye on it. Vintage waffle irons definitely seem to work better – I use the pizzelle iron my aunt got as a wedding gift in the ’70s to make pizzelles every Christmas, and (fingers crossed) it is still going strong!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I agree. I hate ‘built in obsolescence’ and would much rather be able to buy something that lasts, even if it costs a little bit more. Until recently I did have a hairdryer that was getting on for 40 years old – and the great thing was I didn’t need to replace it when it broke because I now have short hair that just dries itself!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My grandparents had a 1920s model toaster that they used at their summer cottage in the ’60s. It was still going strong after forty years. The first time my brother and I saw it, we didn’t know what it was!


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