History of the Microwave Oven

Updated February 21, 2017

Microwave ovens are a ubiquitous part of most modern kitchens in the industrialised world. Although they're uncommon in kitchens in the developing world, the history of how this kitchen appliance was developed is fascinating.

Product of Another Technology

The microwave oven is a byproduct of research in radar technology. In 1946, Dr. Percy Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon, discovered a melted chocolate bar in his pocket after testing a magnetron.

Further Testing

Dr. Spencer continued his testing by placing popcorn near the magnetron. After discovering that it popped, he placed an egg near the same device. The egg exploded, thus verifying that the magnetron was, indeed, cooking food.

First Microwave Oven

Dr. Spencer placed the magnetron at one end of a sealed metal box. The box prevented the microwaves from escaping, this creating a higher density of waves. When food was placed in the box, the internal temperature rose quickly, thus cooking the food.

Early Commercial Units

Raytheon filed for the patent on microwave cooking in 1946. The first commercial units sold for £3,250 and were a massive 5.5 feet tall and weighed around 340 Kilogram.

Early Consumer Models

Early consumer microwaves, sold under the name Radarange, were built in refrigerator cabinets and sold for several thousand dollars. In the mid-1950s, Tappan introduced a model that sold for just over £650. In 1967, the first countertop microwave was produced by Raytheon subsidiary Amana and sold for around £325.

Modern Microwave Ovens

Modern microwave ovens are derivatives of that early Amana countertop model. As technology improved and became cheaper, it became possible to produce small microwave ovens cheaply, making them almost universal in modern kitchens.

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About the Author

Although he grew up in Latin America, Mr. Ma is a writer based in Denver. He has been writing since 1987 and has written for NPR, AP, Boeing, Ford New Holland, Microsoft, RAHCO International, Umax Data Systems and other manufacturers in Taiwan. He studied creative writing at Mankato State University in Minnesota. He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, English and reads Spanish.