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Tiny Ovens For Tots: A Kitchen Evolution

When curators at the National Building Museum were arranging domestic bric-a-brac for the recently opened House & Home exhibit, they agonized over the placement of an original 1963 Easy-Bake Oven. Did it belong, they wondered, in the playroom? Or in the kitchen?

About the size of a toaster and molded out of turquoise plastic, the Easy-Bake was clearly a toy; but unlike most toy ovens, it could actually bake real food. Powered by a pair of incandescent light bulbs, the oven turned just-add-water baking mixes into kid-sized cakes, brownies and cookies - and inspired generations of future chefs.

The Easy-Bake wasn't the first toy that could really cook, though it's probably the most well known. It's so iconic that two of my aunts are sure they played with one in the 1950s, years before Kenner (now Hasbro) introduced the Easy-Bake brand. But toy ovens existed in a variety of shapes and sizes long before the Easy-Bake came around, from cast-iron models that burned real fuel to enameled tin sets heated with electricity.

And the Easy-Bake itself has changed dramatically over the decades, reflecting changing kitchen fashions as well as technology. And the allure of pint-sized kids making pint-sized treats held steady through it all. No matter which of the last five decades you were born in, you probably either had or desperately wanted an Easy-Bake of your own.

Flip through our slideshow to see a century of toy ovens and to find out where the Building Museum's Easy-Bake Oven ended up.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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