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UC alum Ronald Howes creates Easy Bake Oven

by Deborah Rieselman

In 2013, the perennial favorite Easy-Bake Oven will celebrate the 50th anniversary of UC alumnus Ronald Bruce Howes Sr. cooking up the original idea.

While director of research and new product development at Cincinnati-based Kenner Products in the early 1960s, Howes, att. Eng. ‘40s, invented the appliance, which has enjoyed such long-lived popularity that it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2006. By that time, 23 million ovens and more than 140 million cake and brownie mixes had been sold.

Although Howes' first design was developed in 1963, the oven wasn’t widely introduced until the 1964 New York Toy Fair. By the end of that year, Kenner executives were amazed that more than half a million ovens had been sold for $15.95, quite a hefty price at the time.

Equipped with a carrying handle, the ovens were available in pale yellow or teal. Each came with baking pans, a mixing bowl, baking utensils, a cookbook and mixes. Two 100-watt incandescent lightbulbs cooked most baked goods in about 15 minutes.

Because of Howes, millions of young girls baked their first cakes, brownies and pies in an Easy-Bake Oven. And many of the children who had the chance to meet with the white-bearded Howes asked if he was Santa Claus.

In addition to creating the Easy-Bake Oven, Howes helped develop or refine Kenner’s Spirograph, Give-A-Show Projector and Close 'n Play Automatic Phonograph. He continued to invent items throughout his entire life, progressing to the other end of the spectrum -- devising electrostatic printers and even high-tech defense weaponry.

In 2010, Howes died at the age of 83. By that time, the oven’s price tag had not quite doubled in 47 years to $30. Following a major redesign in 2011, by Christmas of ’12, the oven was selling for $55.

Since the original toy came out, the manufacturer (now Hasbro) updated the design 11 times, in colors and styles to match the times. The most significant change will take place in February 2013 when Hasbro unveils a gender-neutral oven at the New York Toy Fair. The oven — available in silver or black instead of only the pink and purple available in 2012 — will go on the market in the fall with ads aimed at both boys and girls.

Howes would have been happy to know that a 13-year-old girl’s love of her 4-year-old brother led to this revision. McKenna Pope of New Jersey petitioned Hasbro for a gender-neutral oven because her brother Gavyn loved to bake, but not with a "girl's toy."

The little boy's intrigue with cooking became obvious when McKenna  discovered him in his room "cooking" tortillas on top of a lamp's lightbulb. Still, he scowled at using her oven because "only girls play with it," he said. How did he know that? "They only put girls in the commercials," he answered [in the video at the bottom].

So McKenna launched a new oven campaign in which she gathered more than 45,000 signatures of people supporting her idea, including celebrity chefs. Her efforts drew the attention of CNN, the Associated Press, MSNBC, Good Morning America, the Washington Post and the LA Times, after which Hasbro listened. Now it seems, Gavyn will have the newest model of Ronald Howes' invention next Christmas.