Origins of ordinary things: Microwave

The microwave was invented in 1946. Net photo.

Prior to the microwave, stoves and ovens were the primary way food was cooked. This method of cooking food was the norm and was incredibly time consuming.

However, unlike most inventions of the time according to, the invention of the microwave did not come out of necessity or an eagerness to save time and labor. Rather, it was largely an accident made by Percy Spencer in 1946. The invention of the microwave came directly as a result of the invention of the magnetron, a tube that uses electrical and magnetic currents to create heat.


It was largely unused until Percy Spencer, when working at the Raytheon Corporation, found that it melted a candy bar in his pocket. The next day Spencer arrived to work with popcorn to see what would happen. To his surprise, it popped, and the rest was history! Percy Spencer along with his coworkers at the Raytheon Corporation used this new discovery to invent the first microwave oven.


According to, the microwave oven was invented at the end of World War II. Yet it took a while for them to catch on. At first they were too big and expensive, and people didn’t trust them because of the radiation they use. Eventually, technology improved and fears faded. By the 2000s, Americans named the microwave oven as the No. 1 technology that made their lives easier,


In 1947, the first commercial microwave oven was tested in a Boston restaurant. Later that year, Raytheon introduced the Radarange 1161. It stood 5.5 feet (1.7 meters) tall, weighed 750 lbs. (340 kilograms) and cost $5,000, according to Gallawa. It had to be hooked up to a water line because the magnetron was water-cooled.

It took a few years for the public to overcome their initial reluctance but as technology improved, microwave ovens grew in popularity, particularly in the food industry. Restaurants could keep cooked recipes in the refrigerator and heat them so as to reduce waste. Other food industry establishments used microwaves for roasting coffee beans and peanuts, defrosting and precooking meat.

In 1967, the Amana Radarange, which could fit on a kitchen countertop, was introduced. It cost just under $500. Soon after, microwave ovens became very popular due to decreasing sizes and costs.

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