For more than 50 years, the Easy-Bake Oven has introduced countless generations of children to the joys of cooking. Since first coming onto the market in 1963, this plastic toy has become a cultural icon, while also serving as an interesting barometer of changing social norms.
Fascinated by the decades-long popularity of this culinary rite of passage, Ottawa-based toy historian and author Todd Coopee wrote Light Bulb Baking: A History of the Easy-Bake Oven.
“I find the appeal of the book lies in how it traces the 50-year history of a toy that remains popular today,” says Coopee, a resident of Centretown, about his first published work.
“Most people I’ve met when discussing the book either had an Easy-Bake Oven or wanted one. In that case, the book serves as a source of nostalgia for them.”
Published by Ottawa-based Sonderho Press, this easy-to-read work will appeal to adults and children alike. With bright colours, clear text and an eye-friendly layout, it could serve as either a unique coffee table book, or for younger members of a household as a children’s textbook that can feed curious minds.
But what makes the the Easy-Bake Oven so special? Well, to begin with, its longevity is nothing short of extraordinary. In our rapidly changing world, it’s remarkable that a toy introduced five decades ago is still selling like crazy.
That being said, there have been changes to the design over the years. When the Easy-Bake Oven first came out, the inefficiency of the light bulb was the secret to the toy’s cooking success.
“Traditional incandescent bulbs are very inefficient,” explains Coopee, who is currently working on a biography of a famous toy inventor, in addition to another toy-related literary project that he hopes to publish.
“From an energy consumption standpoint, over 90% of the electricity used to power a light bulb is given off as heat, which made it a perfect power source for the Easy-Bake. The inventors of the toy leveraged the inefficiency in a new way, without having to take the time to figure out how to power the oven differently.”
The modern version of the Easy-Bake Oven, in contrast, now has a dedicated heat source. So what can we expect from future models?
“I don’t think a return to the light bulb is on the horizon!” says Coopee. “My feeling is that future changes will be mostly cosmetic in nature, with changes in size and colour probably topping the list. I suspect Hasbro will innovate in the area of mixes available for the oven – so things you can bake inside it – to keep things interesting.”
Another noticeable change is how has been marketed to children over the years. Little boys were often called chefs, while girls were cooks. Now the toy is sold in a gender-neutral design.
“Currently Hasbro is continuing to sell/promote a version of the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven in what they consider to be a gender-neutral colour palette (black, blue, silver),” says Coopee. “The packaging of this toy also features boys and girls using the oven. It appears as though they will continue to promote this version of the over into the future. It will be interesting to see what they do for the next model of the oven – although from all accounts nothing new is on the horizon.”