BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Today, more than 90 percent of American households own a microwave oven. In our fast-paced society, it’s no wonder that a cooking tool designed to swiftly deliver hot meals and snacks is so widely used.
But what may not be as popular is the fact that an accidental discovery led to the microwave oven’s invention.
An article from Business Insider points out that an engineer stumbled upon the creation of the device when he was working on a radar’s magnetron, which is an electron tube that amplifies or generates a type of electromagnetic radiation called ‘microwaves’, and he noticed that it made a nearby piece of candy melt.
The engineer’s name was Percy Spencer and the year was 1945.
Spencer was a self-taught engineer working for a defense technology company called Raytheon.
While working in a Raytheon lab and testing magnetrons, he was near one of the magnetrons and happened to have a piece of candy in his pocket, a nut-cluster he planned to use to feed ducks with later.
When the candy began to melt, Spencer got an idea.
He wanted to see if the microwave-producing magnetron would melt other foods. So, he and his team tested its effects on an egg, which exploded, and then on popcorn kernels, which popped.
They eventually applied for a patent for the device, which USA Today says they referred to as a “Method of treating foodstuffs.”
It took a few years for the new cooking tool to make its way to the public.
In 1947, Raytheon released its first commercially available microwave oven. It was called “RadaRange,” weighed 750 lbs., and clocked in at about $5,000.
By the 1970’s, a less expensive and more user-friendly-sized version of the microwave oven was readily available and found in most U.S. homes.
Today, the technology behind the device is still under the radar of scientists who study magnetrons and related fields of research.
Warming a frozen dinner in a microwave oven for three to five minutes seems like a fairly simple process.
But the choreography between the device’s magnetron, electromagnetic radiation, and water molecules is quite complex.
Ironically, Spencer’s serendipitous decision to put a piece of candy in his pocket led to the happy accident that tamed a complex scientific process into an invention most would agree is both convenient and useful in daily life.