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The Birth of the Microwave Oven

Blog / August 19, 2015

history of microwaveDid you know that over 95 percent of households today own a microwave oven?  What is more interesting is that around 75 percent of these households find microwave ovens as one of the most essential things people owned; in fact, second only to cars.  Just how did microwave ovens enter the consumer market?  Let us take a look at the history of microwaves and take it from there.

Accidental Discovery

Unknown to many, the microwave oven we know today is a product of accident.  During World War 2, Dr. Percy Spencer was conducting experiments in radar research, more specifically with the use of magnetrons. 

These magnetrons are vacuum tubes capable of producing microwave radiation with a wavelength from 1mm to 30cm.  This means that the modern microwave is an offshoot of another technology.

The year was 1946, Dr. Spencer noticed something peculiar as he was testing the magnetrons; a candy bar in his pocket melted.  This intriguing discovery led to more experiments, this time by placing some popcorn kernels near the magnetrons.

The kernels began to sputter, crackle, and then pop!  With heightened curiosity, Dr. Spencer proceeded to test an egg placed near the magnetron tube the next morning.  The sudden increase in temperature inside the egg resulted in extreme internal pressure causing the egg to explode all over the face of an equally curious colleague who was standing a bit too close.  The conclusion was that the low-density microwave energy can be used to cook other types of food faster.

The Next Step

Percy SpencerFor Dr.  Percy Spencer who was part of the Raytheon Corporation, the next logical step was to create a microwave oven for commercial or domestic use.  Would you buy a microwave oven standing almost 6 feet tall and weighing 750 pounds for $5,000?  Maybe not, and this was the same response for many, which resulted in a disappointing initial sales performance for the microwave oven.

The whole concept of using microwaves to cook food was patented and placed in one Boston restaurant for further testing.  By 1947, the commercial market saw the first imposing figure of the microwave oven that made use of a water-cooled system for the magnetron tube.

The reluctant acceptance of the buying public meant going back to the drawing board for more refinements and improvements.  Soon enough, a reliable and lightweight version featuring an air-cooled magnetron was released to the market with a friendlier price tag.  This resulted in fresher food, fewer waste, and more savings.

The Modern Microwave Oven

Looking at the history of microwaves, it is not surprising how the modern microwave oven we now enjoy came to birth.  In 1967 the Amana Refrigeration company which is a subsidiary of the Raytheon Manufacturing Company introduced the first countertop model that sold for $495.  It was capable of cooking a hamburger in just 35 seconds using a Japanese-developed electron tube that replaced the older and bulkier magnetrons.

This domestic microwave oven paved the way for the incorporation of this appliance as an indispensable part of every kitchen.  The initial slow response was traced to the stiff price tag of microwave ovens, but it was undeniable that the era of microwave oven cooking was born.

In the following years more research and development by various manufacturers bore fruit towards the end of 1971 when countertop microwave units began flooding the market with reduced price tags but increased capabilities.

Walter Reed Hospital confirmed in 1968 that microwaves really leaked out of microwave ovens.  However, research and development work as well as Federal standards of 1971 solved this problem.  Today homeowners operate a microwave oven without fear of leaks. 

If you want a reliable and affordable microwave oven, head on to Faulkner’s Appliance Center to benefit from 60 years of trusted and impeccable service to its customers.