The Early Years:
The ancient Egyptians, around 6,000 years ago, were the first to develop the bread that we know today. They realized that if they let the bread sit out in Egypt's warm climate it would rise, and when baked would retain its risen shape. This process was explained hundreds of years later when yeast cells were discovered.
The word "toast" comes from the Latin word "tostum", meaning scorch or burn. Toast is essentially burnt bread, so the name makes sense. Toasting bread in ancient times was a means of preserving it. The Romans spread the idea of toast throughout Europe, even into Britain, and the colonists brought toast to the Americas.
At first bread was toasted by holding it over a fire or by lying it on a hot stone. Some earlier toasters were wire frames that sat over a fireplace. The invention of electricity led to the invention of the modern toaster. Before the toaster could be built, however, a certain nickel-chromium alloy called ni-chrome had to be developed so that the toast could be heated. This is why the toaster arrived on the scene after other appliances.
The first toasters were produced in the early 1900s, the first commercially successful toaster in 1909. The first automatic, or "pop-up", toaster for the home was the Toastmaster, developed in 1926. There was even a knob that the user turned to determine the degree of darkness. The Toastmaster caused quite a stir, and along with the invention of sliced bread, it helped open the age of the automatic toaster. By the 1940s most toasters were automatic.
Over the years toasters have become more commonplace and dull. Today most homes (88% in the US) have a toaster. Toast has become an everyday sort of thing. However, it is still possible to respect toast. Although at first used simply to preserve bread, toast is also crunchier and easier to spread things on than regular bread. Some prefer the taste of toast to plain bread. Toast has also influenced the development of peanut butter, butter, and jam. Sure, you could spread any of these items on something else, but it just wouldn't be the same without toast.
There are a vast number of toast lovers in the world, and with the Internet they have found a new medium. There is an immense network of toast-dedicated websites, including a toast bible, songs about toast, and all sorts of toast and toaster memorabilia.1 An example - visit www.drtoast.com for toast recipes, related links, and so on.
New interest has recently been aroused in a toast-related phenomenon involving Murphy's Law - "Anything that can go wrong, will." It has been claimed throughout recent history that toast, when dropped, will most often land butter-side down. Most scientist call this idea nonsense, but some hang on to the belief.2
The Future of Toast
Exciting new developments occur everyday involving the future of toast. Progress has been made in areas such as talking toasters and a brilliant perpetual motion theory involving cats and buttered toast. All right, maybe this last one wouldn't work, but you never know until you try.3 There is also word of a toaster that burns weather predictions into the side of your toast. It gets the predictions by means of an internet connection. Oh, the marvels of toast.