Most childhood toys don’t serve many purposes beyond keeping us distracted enough to let our parents relax. Sure, some were educational from a classroom perspective, but few taught us any real-life lessons. One exception that influenced generations of chefs and bakers (and continues today) was the Easy-Bake Oven.
1963: The Year Child Bakers Become A Thing
In 1963, Kenner (now Hasbro) came out with its first Easy-Bake Oven. Created by Ronald Howes, who was inspired by NYC street vendors, the original yellow or turquoise toy resembled a conventional oven and used two 100-watt incandescent light bulbs as a heat source.
It was an immediate hit, selling more than half a million units in its first year. In 1967, Kenner sold the toy to General Mills (though it would be sold back to Hasbro in 1991) and by 1968, Betty Crocker began making mixes for it. Fifty-two years, 11 models, and more than 40 million units later, the Easy-Bake Oven continues to inspire young chefs.
The Trick: Super Hot Light Bulbs
First released with 25 different mixes that included cakes, pizzas, and pretzels, it used what were essentially really hot light bulbs (temperatures could reach up to 375 degrees) to bake. Because it wasn’t a conventional oven, that somehow helped put parents’ safety concerns at ease. Later models would require only one bulb and work more like a convection oven.
The Design Evolved (Or Devolved) To Fit The Times
With 11 models, the Easy-Bake Oven has always been designed for the times. Early models resembled an actual oven with a range on top and came in many colors including white, red and green. In 1978, it changed its appearance to resemble a yellow and brown microwave and stuck with that theme throughout the '80s and '90s before returning to a more oven-like appearance in the early 2000s. As time marched on, it also settled on one predominant color – pink.
The Oven Joins The Toy Hall Of Fame, But Trouble Follows
In 2006, the Easy-Bake Oven got inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. You wouldn’t think government policy would influence toys much, but the following year the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 caused a ton of problems for the Easy-Bake Oven because ultimately, their heat source had to change.
Changing to a traditional heating element, the Easy-Bake Oven was re-designed with a front-loading appearance that required kids to use tongs. Within a year, 29 incidents were reported of children getting their hands stuck in the oven, some with burns. They issued a retrofit kit, but by that point more than 200 complaints were reported, and Hasbro ultimately ended up recalling nearly a million units.
Hasbro Creates A Black And Silver Version
Hasbro went back to the bulb for a few more years, but finally retired it in 2011 when they designed a new, safer version that again used a traditional heating element.
Up to this point, the toy had predominantly been marketed towards girls, but things changed in 2012 when 13-year-old McKenna Pope went to buy one as a Christmas gift for her younger brother only to discover they all came in pink.
Doing what young activists do these days, she launched a petition on Change.org to get Hasbro to create a gender-neutral oven. It caught the attention of famous chefs including Bobby Flay and ultimately Hasbro came out with a black and silver version.
Today, the oven runs around $60, and there are even cookbooks out including one called The Easy-Bake Oven Gourmet that was released in 2003 with recipes by top chefs for dishes from scratch (as opposed to their simple mixes) like roasted quail and dulce de leche.
Needless to say, the Easy-Bake Oven continues to have a bright future ahead.