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The Microwave Oven Developed By Accident In 1945, Wasn’t Available For Home Use Until 1967.

On December 6th, National Microwave Oven Day honors one appliance that changed the way we use the kitchen.

  • Quite by accident, self-taught American engineer Percy Spencer discovered a way to heat food safely with microwaves. While working with an active radar in 1945, he noticed a candy bar in his pocket was melting.
  • The high-powered microwave beams created a heating effect ideal for cooking. Spencer deliberately attempted cooking popcorn with the microwaves. Next, he tried cooking an egg. The egg test was less successful than the popcorn. It exploded in his fellow engineer’s face! However, we can cook eggs in microwave ovens. Try poaching one.
  • Spencer, employed by Raytheon, continued experimenting with different methods of heating food safely with microwaves.
  • Raytheon filed a United States patent application for Spencer’s microwave cooking process on October 8, 1945.
  • In 1947, Raytheon built the first commercially available microwave oven. It was called the “Radarange.”
  • An estimated 90% of homes in the United States have a microwave in them.
  • The first microwave oven that was commercially available had 1.8 meters in height and weighed 340 kilograms. It used three times as much power as today’s microwave ovens, and was water-cooled.
  • The first food to be deliberately cooked with a microwave was popcorn.
  • The first public use of a microwave oven was in January 1947. Speedy Weeny vending machine was placed in Grand Central Terminal and it sold freshly prepared hot dogs.
  • A common idea that microwave ovens cook food “from the inside out” is a misconception.
  • When heated in a microwave oven, closed containers like eggs can explode due to the increased pressure from steam that builds inside them.
  • The cooking chamber (a metal box where the food is placed and exposed to microwaves) is similar to a Faraday’s cage and prevents the waves from coming out of the oven.
  • The first microwave sold for $5,000.  Called the “RadaRange,” the machine was unsurprisingly a bigger robotic beast than the cutesy cozy little kitchen pets we know today. Weighing 750 pounds and standing just under 6 feet, the first commercial microwave sold for $5,000 ($52,628 today). It was also waaaaaay more powerful than today’s microwave, cooking a full potato in 30 seconds.
  • According to Spencer’s grandson, Rod, also an inventor, “The microwave oven eventually became known as Raytheon’s largest commercial failure, and the reason why was that, like so many other failures, they saw the cool technology but they didn’t understand the market.”
  • Microwaving plastic-covered food can give you cancer; standing next to it won’t.
  • Microwaves Didn’t Go Home Until 1967.  The appliance spent the next 20 years shrinking in both size and price, but it wasn’t until 1967, after Raytheon acquired Amana Refrigeration and introduced a 100-volt $500 countertop version designed specifically for home use, that the public showed any real interest in actually purchasing one.
  • It was Minnesota-based Golden Valley that first brought the microwave popcorn to market in 1981. The company’s now-defunct first product, Act I, was made with real dairy and thus, had to be refrigerated. Three years later, Golden Valley launched the shelf-stable Act II, which kicked off an avalanche of the ubiquitous flat bags you see (and smell, and hear) puffing up in the office microwave. Americans now consume 13 billion quarts of popcorn every year, according to industry advocacy organization, The Popcorn Group.

Sources:

National Day Calendar

History of Microwave

Food Beast

Epicurious

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