Tiny Ovens For Tots: A Kitchen Evolution

  • Released in 1963 and marketed with cosmetic updates ever since, the Easy-Bake Oven has introduced generations of American kids to the kitchen. But it wasn't the first toy to do so...
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    Released in 1963 and marketed with cosmetic updates ever since, the Easy-Bake Oven has introduced generations of American kids to the kitchen. But it wasn't the first toy to do so...
    Hasbro
  • In the late 19th and early 20th century, toy stoves differed from real stoves only in size. Made of steel or cast iron, they were heated with wood or pellets of solid fuel. "Cooking can be done upon this range," proclaimed one ad from 1892. The stove pictured here dates from the 1920s.
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    In the late 19th and early 20th century, toy stoves differed from real stoves only in size. Made of steel or cast iron, they were heated with wood or pellets of solid fuel. "Cooking can be done upon this range," proclaimed one ad from 1892. The stove pictured here dates from the 1920s.
    Ard Hesselink/Flickr.com
  • When electric ranges replaced wood and gas in the kitchen, oven toys followed suit, as seen in this Billy & Ruth toy catalog from 1935.
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    When electric ranges replaced wood and gas in the kitchen, oven toys followed suit, as seen in this Billy & Ruth toy catalog from 1935.
    www.antiquetoycollections.info
  • The Little Chef line of electric toy stoves was popular in the 1950s and was even featured in a cookbook for children, Suzie's New Oven. This one was spotted at an antiques store in Comfort, Texas.
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    The Little Chef line of electric toy stoves was popular in the 1950s and was even featured in a cookbook for children, Suzie's New Oven. This one was spotted at an antiques store in Comfort, Texas.
    Lauren Mitchell/Flickr.com
  • This 1971 Easy-Bake carries a Betty Crocker logo, part of a marketing partnership. But as one former Easy-Baker remembers, the just-add-water mix packets often "turned into glop" instead of baking properly.
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    This 1971 Easy-Bake carries a Betty Crocker logo, part of a marketing partnership. But as one former Easy-Baker remembers, the just-add-water mix packets often "turned into glop" instead of baking properly.
    Hasbro
  • The Easy-Bake has always mirrored the latest fashions in kitchen technology. Since the 1980s, most models have taken their stylistic cues from microwaves instead of convection ovens.
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    The Easy-Bake has always mirrored the latest fashions in kitchen technology. Since the 1980s, most models have taken their stylistic cues from microwaves instead of convection ovens.
    Hasbro
  • Today's Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven has a sleek, retro-futuristic look. And the light bulbs have been replaced with a heating element, making it, perhaps, more oven than Easy-Bake.
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    Today's Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven has a sleek, retro-futuristic look. And the light bulbs have been replaced with a heating element, making it, perhaps, more oven than Easy-Bake.
    Hasbro
  • The original boxy, turquoise, incandescent Easy-Bake has pride of place among kitchen appliances at the National Building Museum's House and Home exhibit. "It's something people always point at," says curator Sarah Leavitt. "It inspires a lot of love and nostalgia."
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    The original boxy, turquoise, incandescent Easy-Bake has pride of place among kitchen appliances at the National Building Museum's House and Home exhibit. "It's something people always point at," says curator Sarah Leavitt. "It inspires a lot of love and nostalgia."
    Benjamin Morris/NPR

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When curators at the National Building Museum were arranging domestic bric-a-brac for the recently opened House & Home exhibit, they agonized over the placement of an original 1963 Easy-Bake Oven. Did it belong, they wondered, in the playroom? Or in the kitchen?

About the size of a toaster and molded out of turquoise plastic, the Easy-Bake was clearly a toy; but unlike most toy ovens, it could actually bake real food. Powered by a pair of incandescent light bulbs, the oven turned just-add-water baking mixes into kid-sized cakes, brownies and cookies - and inspired generations of future chefs.

The Easy-Bake wasn't the first toy that could really cook, though it's probably the most well known. It's so iconic that two of my aunts are sure they played with one in the 1950s, years before Kenner (now Hasbro) introduced the Easy-Bake brand. But toy ovens existed in a variety of shapes and sizes long before the Easy-Bake came around, from cast-iron models that burned real fuel to enameled tin sets heated with electricity.

And the Easy-Bake itself has changed dramatically over the decades, reflecting changing kitchen fashions as well as technology. And the allure of pint-sized kids making pint-sized treats held steady through it all. No matter which of the last five decades you were born in, you probably either had or desperately wanted an Easy-Bake of your own.

Flip through our slideshow to see a century of toy ovens and to find out where the Building Museum's Easy-Bake Oven ended up.

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