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The Invention of the Microwave Oven


The microwave oven was a happy accident.

Scientists invented the magnetron during World War II. This device emitted microwaves, which the British armed forces used to detect incoming German planes.

After the war, scientists continued to improve on the magnetron. In 1946, Percy Spencer, who was working for the Raytheon Corporation, was testing a new version of the magnetron when he noticed that the candy bar in his pocket had melted.

Spencer thought that the magnetron was responsible, and so he placed some unpopped popcorn kernels near the magnetron and flipped the switch. Presto! The popcorn popped.

After several more tests, Spencer and his fellow Raytheon scientists were convinced that they had a new invention on their hands. Spencer eventually created a big box that they would place food in for heating. They also discovered that exposure to too much radiation was bad for people.

The first microwave ovens looked like a cross between regular oven and a refrigerator. They were 5 feet tall and required a water pipe connection to cool the magnetron after use.

Not too many bought those first microwave ovens, but some did. Scientists kept experimenting and refining what they had. Finally, in the 1960s, the small countertop version that we know today was introduced.

Graphics courtesy of ClipArt.com


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