The idea of cooking batter between two hot metal plates is quite old, going back to the ancient Greeks. They were originally flat cakes. In the Middle East they were called oublies and could be rolled and filled. By the 13th century, some craftsman built the plates with the ridges or honeycomb pattern and called his cakes gaufres from the Old French wafla.
The Dutch called the cakes wafel. The Pilgrims had learned of the treat before sailing to the New World and brought the cakes with them. Wafel appeared in English print by 1735. Thomas Jefferson brought back a long handled waffle iron from a trip to France. Some early waffle irons included intricate patterns such as a coat of arms or religious symbols. The dough was placed between the hinged plates that were then pressed together using wooden handles. The whole mechanism was then placed over the hearth fire to bake.
Swarthout, a Dutch-American, patented a version of waffle iron made using cast iron for the plates. The dough was pressed between the plates and then cooked on the stove top. The next leap in waffle technology came in 1911 when General Electric produced the first electric iron. They introduced a heating element using a built-in thermostat. Earlier versions often burned the waffle due to overheating. Today's waffle irons appear different but the basic design remains the same but with upgrades such as non-stick surfaces.
There are a variety of waffles made throughout the world. Brussels waffles are thicker and with large pockets. They are often sold by street vendors with a dusting of powdered sugar. Liège waffles were created by a Belgium chef and contain caramelized chunks of pearl sugar. American waffles (Belgium waffles) are leavened with baking powder rather than yeast. They can be sweetened or used as a base for entrees, as in some chicken dishes. Hong Kong waffles are round and can be spread with peanut butter and sugar before eating the treat, often sold by street vendors. Stroopwafels are thin, round, and have a syrup filling. Which do you want? Stop waffling.