First modern waffle iron
Cornelius Swartwout
/ first
United States ()

American inventor Cornelius Swartwout’s patent for what we would today recognize as a waffle iron - filed in Troy, New York, USA, in 1869 and granted on 24 August of that year - revolutionized a kitchen utensil that had been in use for centuries. His genius was to transform a long-handled contraption designed for use over an open flame into a stove-top version, making the iron both more practical to use and less likely to burn the waffles, or indeed the cook!

Ancient Greeks used an iron held over a hearth to make flat wafers; the deeper indentations of waffle irons were devised by the Dutch circa the 14th century and brought to America by the Pilgrims, who lived in Holland (now the Netherlands) for nearly a decade before continuing on to their new home in North America in 1620. These waffle irons had handles around 0.5 m (2 ft) long to keep the cook far from the open flame, but the cooking process was still fraught with danger, and it was hard to ensure even cooking. Swartwout’s invention used hinged round, rather than rectangular, cast-iron plates that enabled the cook to turn the iron easily without removing it from its stand. It was designed for use on a wood-burning or cast-iron stove.

Boston’s Simplex Electric Heating Company manufactured the first electric waffle iron in 1906, and throughout the 20th century various manufacturers sought to improve on that early model. The electric waffle iron eventually became so ubiquitous that it served as inspiration for the grid on the sole of Nike’s famous “waffle” training shoes, patented by Bill Bowerman in 1972.

To commemorate Swartwout's patent, National Waffle Day is celebrated on 24 August each year in the USA.