March 3, 2011
The common incandescent light bulb will soon become a lot less common. In an effort to reduce energy waste and greenhouse gas emissions, the provisions laid out in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (pdf) stipulate that manufacture of the classic 100 watt bulb will cease in 2012, with lower wattage bulbs being phased out by 2014. And considering that the majority of the energy consumed by regular light bulbs goes into producing heat, incandescents are ridiculously inefficient at what they were designed to do. What does this mean in terms of food? It means the end of the Easy-Bake Oven as we now know it.
It wasn’t the first electric toy oven. Lionel, in a departure from its popular line of trains, came out with an electric range in 1930, and in the 1950s products such as the Little Lady Range were encouraging aspiring homemakers to try their hands at baking. However, these toys were scaled-down versions of real appliances, which meant lots of exposed heating elements that could potentially burn little hands. The Easy-Bake Oven designers, on the other hand, took a cue from street vendors’ pretzel ovens to create a modified oven where you slide bakeware full of batter or dough through the oven to cook and cool. The other design innovation was the use of two 100 watt lightbulbs, safely concealed within the toy, to heat the oven. In light of the impending bulb ban, Hasbro will be rolling out what is presently dubbed the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven, which will feature as-yet-unknown heating element. However, this is not the first time the toy has had a makeover. Since it first hit toy store shelves in 1963, has updated its look 11 times to keep up with aesthetic trends—like an avocado green model that emerged in the 1970s—as well as changes in the American kitchen. (Though it once resembled a range, the toy was redesigned in the early 1980s to look like a microwave and it has since maintained that look.)
In keeping with traditional gender stereotypes, the toy was marketed exclusively to girls. Even when boys would appear in television spots for the toy, they were almost always just there to observe and enjoy the hard work their little female companion put into making Easy-Bake treats. Perhaps the closest male equivalent was Creepy Crawlers, where you used a lightbulb to cook off molded plastic insects; although in the early 2000s, an Easy-Bake variant called the Queasy Bake Cookerator briefly entered the market, encouraging boys to make food that resembled bugs, dirt and dog drool.
Nevertheless, the toy has endured as a quintessential teaching tool, a set of homemaking training wheels—even though the notion of just adding water to prefab mixes gives an oversimplified vision of what it’s like to work in a real kitchen. The Easy-Bake Oven has also served as an inspiration to professional chefs, who transcended the prepackaged mixes and created a cookbook full of gourmet recipes that will work in the oven. And what little kid wouldn’t want to serve wild mushroom flan and roasted quail breast at their next tea party or Tonka truck rally?
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