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What’s the Real Story Behind the History of the Microwave Oven? [VIDEO]

Velo Steve, flickr

The microwave oven is a wonderful time saver. When you want to defrost a chicken, warm up a bowl of soup, pop some popcorn or cook an instant burrito, you can’t beat microwave technology.

Practically every household in the country has one of these handy home appliances nowadays, but there was a time, not so long ago, when they weren’t nearly so widespread. People actually had to heat things up in a gas or electric oven. Imagine the horror.

Nazi Warplanes

During WWII, scientists in Great Britain were working on a research project involving magnetrons, which produced microwaves. These microwaves were used in some of the earliest radar systems, which helped British forces locate Nazi warplanes in the sky, before they finished crossing the English Channel. Radar was a huge success, and helped the allies win the war.

A Melted Candy Bar

In the mid-1940s, Dr. Percy LeBaron Spencer, a scientist employed by the Raytheon Corporation, discovered something curious. A candy bar he had in his pocket melted while he was tinkering around with a magnetron. After a little more research, he soon found out that microwaves were able to heat up and cook food much quicker than gas or electric ovens.

Giant Microwave Ovens

The Raytheon Corporation took advantage of Dr. Percy LeBaron Spencer’s discovery and began manufacturing microwave ovens. The first microwave oven it built was the 1600 watt 1161 Radarange. It was extremely large, coming in at almost six feet tall and weighing 750 pounds. It was also fairly pricy and was generally only sold to restaurants or other large food preparation facilities.

The Modern Microwave Oven

Amana, a division of the Raytheon Corporation, came up with a much smaller version of the microwave oven in 1967. The company introduced a Radarange oven that could be used in the home. The price tag for these first domestic microwave ovens was still pretty steep, but as the years passed, the prices began to fall, until it was possible for almost every family in the United States, and in the industrialized world, to own a microwave oven. These days you’d be hard-pressed to find a household without one. How else can you ‘zap’ your Hot Pockets into something warm and edible?

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