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You know how you get into those bizarre family discussions over the holidays?  This year, ours was all about toasters.  That seems so innocuous, doesn't it?  But, after two days of websurfing, I've got a bad case of eyestrain and a severe lack of US made toasters.  

You see, just about every morning, my father has a bagel. His current toaster still works, but just doesn't fit well on the counter, so Pop started to look for a new toaster while doing his Christmas shopping.  Unfortunately, every toaster he picked up within his price range seemed to be made in China, which eventually sent him into cussing tirades that the store clerks are probably still talking about.  This lifelong union member just couldn't bear to buy an appliance made in China.  More on the Quest for Toast and How NAFTA Stole Christmas after the jump

Having great faith in the mystical power of computers and his kids' ability to find stuff on the internet, Pop asked us to go find him an American made toaster.  The short answer-"Sorry, Pop, there ain't none."  The long answer- there may never be any US made toasters again, thanks to nifty foreign trade treaties and the power of the global market.

The Quest for Toast
After the holidays, I decided to try again to find out whether there really were any toasters available that fit his requirements, those being pretty basic- a 2-slice toaster that could hold a bagel, was manufactured in the US, and didn't cost an arm and a leg.  I didn't think I would be spending days on this, but that was before I started what should have been a simple online shopping trip. With few exceptions (Dualit Toasters from the UK), nobody really wants to tell you where their toasters are manufactured. That's because they're all made somewhere I can't find on a map.

After several missteps, I finally found an online database that tracks US made products, as reported by consumers.  They had a dated report about the mythical Model T75C 2-slice toaster from Toastmaster which might survive on dusty shelves somewhere. I had no luck locating that magical toast beast- it currently appears to be out of production, but may become available again later this year (probably from a new source in China). Thinking that maybe there might be another US made product made by the same manufacturer, I discovered that even the company was gone. Toastmaster has been absorbed into Salton (home of George Forman Grills and foot massagers galore).

The Toaster Capital of the World
Still determined to find Pop a toaster, I hit yet more obscure online toast sources for more info and was thrilled to discover that beeyootiful Mount Airy, North Carolina (aka the home of the fictional Mayberry, where Andy Griffith and Barney lived) was "officially" named the "Toaster Capital of the World"  in 1993.  Surely, I thought, I could find a toaster for Pop that was made in the Toaster Capital- right?  So I started back onto the internet trail looking for information about toasters manufactured at the big Hamilton Beach/Proctor Silex plant in Mount Airy.  

Being an environmentally sensitive consumer, I was pleased to quickly discover that the Mount Airy Hamilton Beach/Proctor Silex plant won the NC Governor's Award for Excellence in Waste Reduction in 1994. They reduced the amount of industrial byproducts used at the plant and also reduced the amount of water needed for manufacturing processes.

Then I found something less positive- the plant was listed  as the 7th worst site in the state on a priority list of NC hazardous waste sites, with contaminants reported in surface water, soil, sediments and groundwater. Another report that I located listed the plant as being "inactive". Now I'm wondering- does that mean they don't make toasters there anymore? And you've also got to wonder, just what happened since they got the big award from the Governor?  

NAFTA, as it relates to Toast
The answer to all those questions seems to be NAFTA (which now has a whole hell of a lot to do with toasters).  Signed in 1992, the provisions of NAFTA went into effect January 1, 1994, amid glowing predictions of the potential economic benefits accruing from this and other tariff-busting trade agreements.  It wasn't just US economists and politicians that were touting the future of multinational trade agreements.  For instance, a 1994 article published in the Times of India proposed that free trade of imported goods would provide higher quality imported goods to consumers in India, simultaneously forcing their domestic producers to improve the quality of their products.  

Yeah, like that was gonna work. For a retrospective report on NAFTA ten years later from Public Citizen, go here.

When unprecedented U.S. economic growth in the 1990s created jobs at a fairly rapid rate, the hundreds of thousands of fulltime, high-wage, benefit-paying manufacturing jobs that were being lost to NAFTA were masked. But the U.S. lost three million manufacturing jobs -- 1 in 6 jobs in that sector -- during NAFTA and some 525,000 U.S. workers have been specifically certified as NAFTA job-loss victims under just one narrow government retraining program.

Toast means Jobs, and Jobs are Good, so Toast is Good
What did all that mean for North Carolina? According to federal statistics quoted in a report from Jobs with Justice, there were over 32,000 jobs lost in NC by 2001 as a direct result of NAFTA. That's a conservative estimate linked to eligibility for the same "narrow government retraining program" mentioned by Public Citizen.  
So, suddenly I've gone from looking for a NC made toaster to the downfall of American manufacturing (which should have been a whole lot more obvious to me, since I'm sitting in rust-belt Ohio).  

What did NAFTA mean for the Mount Airy Hamilton Beach/Proctor Silex plant? It meant that their toaster manufacturing operations were quickly moved to Mexico, the promised land of low-wage workers under NAFTA. The jobs that were lost in Mount Airy were formally certified by the Department of Labor in 1998 as being linked to market pressure- i.e. "there has been a shift in production by such workers' firm or subdivision to Mexico or Canada of articles like or directly competitive with articles which are produced by the firm or subdivisions."  

At the Mount Airy plant located in the Toaster Capital of the World, 174 jobs were lost when toaster manufacturing operations moved to Mexico. Another 872 jobs were lost at other Hamilton Beach-Proctor Silex plants in NC that had been manufacturing small household appliances. The 200,000 square feet plant in Mount Airy was recently offered by an industrial real estate specialist.  The state of North Carolina is monitoring the hazardous waste site for metal and organic contaminants.  Several enterprising legal firms have identified the Mount Airy plant as being a prime candidate for worker's cases that can show mesothelioma related to asbestos exposure.

What's next for toast?
A recent glowing article about NAFTA in the Yale Economic Review explains how US imports from Mexico increased 238% from 1993 to 2002,  to $134.7 billion. However, it also reports that a rise in the real wages of Mexican workers has pushed multinational companies to aggressively move their low-wage manufacturing jobs from Mexico to China.  Not surprisingly, the parent company of Hamilton Beach/Proctor Silex attributes recent gains  in their net income to an increase in sales volume and lower manufacturing costs, all linked to a recent shift in sourcing their products from China.  

At a global import industry trade site, 361 different toasters are currently listed as available for import from 159 companies operating in mainland China.

In Conclusion...
I still can't find a US made toaster, but my Quest for Toast continues. Maybe I will get lucky and find old stock sitting on a shelf somewhere. I even tried Cheney's approach, but Ebay just didn't work for me. The auction for the Toastmaster Powermatic Imperial went to $53 bucks. Sure, it was 30 years old, but it sure wasn't made in China. Hey- are there any UK Kossacks out there that want to hit a couple thrift stores for me? I'd be willing to make a deal for a Dualit Lite 2-slice model?   They look well-made to me and you guys still got unions, but the company won't ship out of the country.

Remember- "Free trade alone is not a panacea for poverty or underdevelopment. Peace, stability, property protection and the rule of law are all important requirements for economic development."

And toast. You can't forget about toast.

Originally posted to histopresto on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 03:51 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Comments welcome (also hints on a toaster) (4.00)
    So, anybody bought a toaster lately? What's it say on the bottom, hmmmmm???

    "Our attitude was- the revolution can't start until we find our hair gel." Joe Strummer

    by histopresto on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 03:49:00 PM PST

  •  So, we're toast? (4.00)
    At least as far as manufacturing goes.

    Leave the cat alone, for what has the cat done, that you should so afflict it with tape? - Ian Frazier, Lamentations of the Father

    by Frankenoid on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 03:55:39 PM PST

    •  Yup, that one came right over the plate. (none)
      Speaking of plates- I found this plant in China that manufactures novelty heat plates that go into your toaster and imprint a picture- like Hello Kitty.  I wonder how many kossacks would howl (other than Kos) if a couple of DailyKos toasters showed up in Vegas....

      "Our attitude was- the revolution can't start until we find our hair gel." Joe Strummer

      by histopresto on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 04:01:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  How far we've fallen.... (none)
    in just a little over a decade, and at such an accelerated rate since 2000, particularly.  Sheesh, we really ARE toast.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich." ~ Napoleon

    by Appalachian Annie on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 04:01:44 PM PST

  •  Nafta, Canada and Toasters (4.00)
    I live in Canada and I am pretty sure you could not get a toaster made in Canada either. General Electric, for example, was by far the largest employer in the city where I live when I moved here. They're still here but only make really big things like turbines for massive hydroelectric projects and the like and have around 1000 employees where they used to have 5000. The biggest Canadian-owned appliance makers all vanished about the same time they left the US. I think that the shift is way bigger than NAFTA. Some appliance manufacturing may be in Mexico, but most of those jobs are in China.

    I tried to buy a bicycle that was made in Canada and learned that there was one brand but that they were really 'high end' and do not plan on becoming an Olympic mountainbiker at my age.

    •  Let me know if you see one, but I doubt you will (none)
      Pop's 1978 LTD was manufactured in Canada, so I think he'd be okay with Canadian toast.  

      "Our attitude was- the revolution can't start until we find our hair gel." Joe Strummer

      by histopresto on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 04:10:39 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  China: Primary Trade Sinkhole (4.00)
        While I will explore the links you posted, I'd like to point out that the macroscopic numbers on trade and trade deficits point fingers China.

        Let's look at these number from census.gov for 2004:

        1. US total imports: $1473 billion, exports: $808 B

        2. imports from China: $197 B, exports: $37 B

        3. Canada:: imports:$256 B, exports:$197B
        4. Mexico:: imports: $156 B, exports: $111 B

        The #s below I calculated:

        1. NAFTA trade: US imports: $412 B, US exports: $308 B

        2. Non-NAFTA trade:: US imports: $1061, exports: $500B

        3. Non-NAFTA, non-China trade:: imports $864 B, exports: $463 B

        In other words:
        • NAFTA trade: for every dollar imported from Canada and Mexico, we export 75 cents worth

        • non-NAFTA, non-China trade: for every dollar we import, we export 53 cents worth

        • non-NAFTA trade (incl. China): for every dollar we import, we export 47 cents worth

        • China Trade: for every dollar we import from China, we only export 18 cents to them

        So, seems to me that our trade with NAFTA partners is much better balanced than that with non-NAFTA partners, and trade with China is abysmally unbalanced.

        I'd say that if we are to address the gash where the most bleeding is occuring, rhetorically speaking, we need to be clamping down on our reckless China trade practices first and foremost.

        •  Those are frightening numbers (none)
          And when I say frightening, I mean that I have only a vague idea what they mean and that I was scared by a checkbook as a child.

          Seriously though, it worries me that in such a brief period of time, Mexico and NAFTA have become irrelevant, as you say, other than as a model for job export that showed American manufacturers just how easily it could be done.

          They ran a PBS show a couple of days ago about Walmart and their pressure on manufacturers to match or beat wholesale prices offered by other (often overseas) sources.  The examples they used finally got the message across to me in a meaningful way- but only because I've watched Rubbermaid (pride of Wooster, OH) go belly-up on jobs at their local plant.  It was the same story with a TV manufacturer that was the big employer in a small town just south of Columbus. They briefly expanded production for big-box retailers, then were forced out of the market by Chinese manufacturers dumping cheap models through Walmart and elsewhere.

          Without toast (and TVs), it's hard to put that mechanism for job losses into perspective.  When your family breadwinner (or toastwinner) loses their safe manufacturing job, it's important that we be able to explain why. For those of us who can't do numbers, that's hard to do.

          "Our attitude was- the revolution can't start until we find our hair gel." Joe Strummer

          by histopresto on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 05:19:09 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Canada and Mexico (none)
          That was very useful information for all of us. I suspect that the main difference on both Canada and Mexico (the gap) is not manufacturing, but energy -- both of us export a lot of energy into the United States. What that tends to do here (Canada) is drive up the value of the Canadian dollar and make our manufactured exports less competitive in the U.S. and elsewhere. I know this is the case because a book publishing company in whic I have an interest is lately losing money on exports to the U.S. because the Canadian dollar is rising faster than we can raise prices on exports while our costs stay roughly the same.

          The U.S. dollar has gone from $1.43 to $1.15 in just a couple of years mostly because oil prices are so high and your dollars are flowing in -- sounds good, but they all go to Alberta, oil extraction is not labor intensive, but manufacturing is and so we are losing more jobs than we are gaining and the winners are the Alberta government (no deficit and now no debt, none) and oil companies, half of which are U.S. based.

  •  I don't have a solution (none)
    But have you considered a used model?  Garage sale, Craig's list?  That's how I got my previous toaster oven.

    Also, if you really have you heart set on the brand Dualit, did you try crate and barrel?

    •  Williams-Sonoma has them too (none)
      One thing I forgot to mention- Pop is also "economical".  Buying him a $100 toaster just might be enough to put him in the ground- beyond the need of toast.

      When yard sale season starts, I imagine he will start flipping toasters all over Ohio to check for the country of origin. He may even start a collection...

      "Our attitude was- the revolution can't start until we find our hair gel." Joe Strummer

      by histopresto on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 04:18:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I know (none)
        But he doesn't have to know the price does he?  As long as it's supporting unions and it's well made he should be happy.

        BTW, crate and barrel also carry stuff by Cuisinart.  At least some of their stuff is made in America.  They list one toaster at $60.  I'm gonna check where the coffee grinder I just bought was made when I get home.

      •  $100 is probably the 1950 equivalent w/inflation? (none)
        The problem here is that "made in China" goes hand-in-hand with the expectation of "cheap"

        I would be willing to bet that $100 for that Made in USA toaster is, with adjustment for inflation, pretty close to the same price an "automatic" toaster versus average household income would have been in the 1940's and 1950's, when they were all made in the US.

        The fact that people FIXED toasters at an appliance repair shop back then, rather than tossing it and buying another with less money than an average lunch would suggest that they were a significant investment in those days?

        So nothing has changed. The price went up as incomes and inflation went up, but...people have become accustomed to dirt-cheap disposable appliances. Which means Made in China.

        Which is a vicious cycle.

  •  Dearest Histo (4.00)
    This diary was brilliant--perhaps the best diary I've read on dKos since Hunter's epic rant in November, and that's no lie. If you find a source for US toasters, let us know.

    "These gravestones don't say 'Democrat' or 'Republican'." --Rep. John Murtha, November 18, 2005

    by PerfectStormer on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 04:22:26 PM PST

  •  history (none)
    If I remember right, NAFTA ( North American Free Trade Agreement ) was signed between Canada and the U.S. in the 80's.  It was amended, modified, extended sometime later.  Mexico, U.S. & Canada signed a similar agreement later on.  The name escapes me.

    What trade agreements Canada or U.S. have with China I don't know, but China is not a signatory to NAFTA.  There can't be much for tariffs on their goods,  they flood both our markets.  No one talks about preserving jobs in our countries because, Proctor / Silex, Rubbermaid & Wal-Mart etc. are still making money and sending some of it to lawmakers.

  •  Not a Problem! (none)
    Using the current administration's unilateralism, we simply annex Canada and Mexico.  Canada has lots of natural resources, Mexico has an abundance of slave labor.  Then, we exploit the hell out of them.  Not a problem!
  •  Not sure if you saw this or not... (none)
    ....but Raw Story's linked to your diary. Under Blogs/Media on the front page.

    Kudos to you and this wonderful piece of writing! :o)

    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

    by ilona on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 08:23:07 PM PST

  •  Guaranteed made-in-US toast, the hard way: (none)
    Let the record show that I hope a US-made toaster is found.  Until then, however...

    1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
    2. Pull out baking dish (9" x 13" x 2" is fine).
    3. Set slices of bread, buttered to taste on one or both sides, into baking dish.
    4. Put baking dish in oven until toast is browned to long-suffering consumer's exact preference, approximately 12 - 15 minutes.

    Spread with jam, or peanut butter, or eat plain.  Enjoy.
  •  toaster not Chinese (none)
    Last year search for a replacement toaster ended up with a toaster not made in China.  Big Lots had French made toasters for under $20!  I bought 3 and sent one to my dad, but didn't tell him initially, where it was made because 'France' was a dirty word to him.
    •  Oooohhhh, a lead! (none)
      France has strikes, so that means unions, so that's okay with Pop. I will be hitting the local Big Lot toot-sweet! (yeah, I know, it ain't spelt like that)

      "Our attitude was- the revolution can't start until we find our hair gel." Joe Strummer

      by histopresto on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 10:28:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Losing Jobs (none)
        PRC (China) has lost 21 Million manufacturing jobs in the last decade. These jobs are not moving, they are being mechanized, in places where the political environment supports mechanization. Where 10 people used to do manufacturing, now one manages a machine that manufactures. The products are made cheaply because that's what we buy (coupled with re-engineering to make automated manufacture possible). There is no upside to a union which supports this mechanization at a 10:1 job loss, so the unions fight it and the plant moved (plus, the new manufacturing plants have to be built from the ground up, and that happens where land and regulatory policies make the investment cheaper and less risky).
        My toater (actually waffle maker) repair guy says the best new toasters are from Europe, and the way to tell is heft. More metal equals a better toaster, it can apply more power and get hotter without melting the plastic.
        Buying a used toaster does no more for the union guy than buying a used CD does for the original artist.

        Ban Intolerance Now!

        by brahma on Thu Jan 19, 2006 at 02:13:59 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Total abuse of the ratings system (1.25)
    Well, it looks like I am being targeted by someone who can dole out zeros because of no other reason than I have an opinion. It's sad. I thought we were starting to get above that here on Kos?

    A political fanzine containing random musings about politics, music, the media and modern times: Politizine

    by politizine2 on Sun Jan 08, 2006 at 02:26:41 PM PST

    •  Looks like this person has a thing for this (none)
      Here's a compensatory 4, but you should report this guy if it continues.

      "Our attitude was- the revolution can't start until we find our hair gel." Joe Strummer

      by histopresto on Mon Jan 09, 2006 at 07:48:55 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Tell the full story, asshole! (none)
      Kos banned you from the site (as "Politizine") for being an abusive asshole Naderite troll. Rather than going back to Kos and saying, "Please take me back, I'll be a good boy." you slithered back under a modified name and continued the same behavior that got you banned in the first place.

      Alas, I don't have the mojo to give you zeroes. I'm sure glad that others do, though.

      •  No one said it was you ... (none)
        First, no one said it was you that was giving me zeros, so don't get so sensitive.

        Second, that isn't why I got banned. I was troll-rated into oblivion for saying that a skit that SNL put on was funny for calling John Kerry a flip-flopper. About 300 people bombed me with zeros and 1s for this even after I said I was holding my nose and voting for the guy anyway.

        It was clear that tensions were too high here so I took a break for awhile. That was over a year ago! I have emailed Kos on a number of occasions - even before I decided to come back - about other things and he has seen fit to let me stay.

        So please, just leave me alone and stop acting like babies and breaking the rules.

        A political fanzine containing random musings about politics, music, the media and modern times: Politizine

        by politizine2 on Tue Jan 10, 2006 at 05:01:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Rate what's in front of you. (none)
        It's against the site rules to chase people through the comments to troll rate their comments. You got a problem with their comments, say so, because the ratings apply to what they say, NOT who they are. Your problems with them personally need to resolved somewhere else, instead of getting into a pissing match in somebody else's diary. That's just fucking rude.

        "Our attitude was- the revolution can't start until we find our hair gel." Joe Strummer

        by histopresto on Wed Jan 11, 2006 at 08:48:11 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

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