The Easy-Bake oven turned 50 last year. That makes us feel old, and it makes the lightbulb-powered appliance one of the longest lasting toy icons in living memory.
If you're looking for nostalgia, Todd Coopee literally wrote the book on Easy Bake ovens, and Collectors Weekly has a great interview with him that sheds some light (a couple of hundred-watt incandescent bulbs, please) on the history of the toy.
It turns out the idea for miniature ovens dates back to the late 19th century, when young girls were given child-sized cast iron stoves. The practice was discontinued at the advent of the World War II, in order to save materials for the war effort.
Toy stoves made a resurgence after the war, and electric fiberglass ovens made their debut in the 1940’s. There there were safety concerns, though, since early models contained exposed heating elements like those found in toasters.
Though there were many toy cooking devices before the Easy-Bake oven, a company called Kenner was the first to use an incandescent light bulb for cooking. As Coopee wrote in Light Bulb Baking, "The fact that a potentially hazardous cooking element was replaced by common household object that kids were around every day—a light bulb—made the Easy-Bake oven appear virtually harmless.”
The owners of Kenner at the time—Al, Phil, and Joe Steiner—were so enamored with the concept that they originally wanted to call it the Safety-Bake Oven, but broadcasters would not let them air commercials with that name because the new product had an unproven safety record.
After a quick name change, the Easy-Bake oven made its debut in November of 1963. Now, 50 years later, these light bulb–powered ovens continue to create sweet little delights—and the occasional mud cake when you run out of mix.