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The Story of the Microwave Oven

Microwaves are one of the most common kitchen appliances, and millions of Americans use them on a daily basis. Though they won’t cook anything as well as a stove or an oven, the convenience of throwing a beverage or frozen meal in the microwave won us over. However, microwaves weren’t very common in American households until the mid-80s.

The history of this everyday device is actually quite fascinating. Microwave ovens trace their roots back to World War II. While the atomic bomb steals the show as the most astonishing technological development of the era, scientists developed a plethora of novel technologies to support the war effort. Radio navigation, penicillin, synthetic rubber and oil, radar, space travel, jet engines, computers, and nuclear power are all technologies with roots in this worldwide conflict. Among these groundbreaking achievements stands the humble microwave oven.

Magnetron tubes were developed by British researchers for allied radar installations, and provided short-range radar. Following the war, magnetron makers sought novel applications for their technology to continue their profits. As demand for radar evaporated, the manufacturers searched high and low for a new way to sell their magnetron tubes.

The heating power of microwave beams was accidentally discovered by Percy Spencer, who was a self-taught engineer. While working for a company named Raytheon, he noticed that a radar set was melting a candy bar in his pocket. Spencer then tested a microwave on popcorn and later an egg, which comically exploded in the face of one of his assistants. Raytheon then filed a US patent for Spencer’s microwave cooking process in 1945.

The very first public microwave was used in a “Speedy Weeny” vending machine in Grand Central Terminal, where it would dispense “sizzling delicious” hot dogs. In 1947, Raytheon would begin selling the “Radarange,” the first commercially available microwave oven. It was almost five feet tall, weighed 750 pounds, and cost roughly $5,000 dollars — which is about $53,000 adjusted for 2016 dollars. Not exactly a shoe-in to the average American household!

For a period of time in the ‘70s, researchers and the public were concerned about the health effects of microwave radiation. Research conducted by the appliance industry eventually convinced the Food and Drug Administration to permit their sale and stop issuing warnings about the technology.

Over the years, the price of microwaves gradually dropped until the late 1970s, when they were much more affordable. By 1997, over 90% of all American households owned a microwave oven.

Microwaves may have come a long way, but they’re still prone to trouble every now and then. If you’re having any problems or issues with your microwave, look into repairing before replacing. We’ve serviced microwaves for three decades now, meaning we can handle just about any problem you may be having. Don’t wait– call Doc’s Appliance Services today!

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