MSE/IMR Special Seminar: The Toaster Project, Friday, September 7

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A special seminar co-hosted by the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the OSU Institute for Materials Research

The Toaster Project: A heroic attempt to build a simple electric appliance from scratch

Thomas Thwaites

Friday, September 7, 2012, 4:10 PM

100 Mendenhall Laboratory, 125 South Oval Mall

Reception with light refreshments to follow

Copies of Thwaites’ book The Toaster Project will be available for purchase



The Toaster Project chronicles Thomas Thwaites’ attempt to make an electric toaster from scratch – seeking iron, copper, mica, nickel and crude oil (for the plastic case) from disused mines and other sources around Britain, attempting to process these materials at home, and finally forming them into a version of a product that can be bought for only a few dollars.

This nine-month process to make a simple toaster is absurd, but perhaps so too is the massive industrial activity we pursue to achieve additional small comforts at ever lower prices.

The laboriousness of producing even the most basic material from the ground up exposes the fallacy in a return to some romantic ideal of a pre-industrialised time.

But at a moment in time when the effects of industry on the environment are no longer trivial even on a global scale, the throwaway toasters, and multitude of other small yet complex consumer appliances, have become absurd themselves.

The finished toaster cost £1187.54, and took nine months to make. It’s an electric appliance that disavows the infrastructure on which it relies. A convenient item that rejects the convenience of consumerism. A mass produced domestic product, ‘manufactured’ on a domestic scale. Its contradictions serve to highlight the amazing efficiencies of modern capitalism, but also to question our current trajectory.

Thomas Thwaites’ TED talk on The Toaster Project


Thomas Thwaites is a designer whose work examines how technology, science and economics interact with trends, fictions and beliefs, to shape our present society, and possible futures. As an undergraduate he studied economics and biology at University College London, and this training informs his design work. He completed his post-graduate masters degree in Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art in 2009.

His work is now exhibited internationally in galleries, at festivals and in museums including the National Museum of China and The Science Museum, London, attracting critical acclaim and a variety of awards. He has undertaken commissions and won several grants from organisations such as the Wellcome Trust and the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

His first book, The Toaster Project, is published by Princeton Architectural Press, and he has presented an accompanying four part television series for the UK national broadcaster Channel Four (for transmission in 2012). He is currently a fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, Germany.