Percy LeBaron Spencer (Inventor of the Microwave Oven)

During World War II scientists invented the magnetron. This tube that produced microwaves was installed into British radar systems in order to detect oncoming war planes. Years later, Percy LeBaron Spencer discovered that radar waves had melted a candy bar in his pocket, thus giving him the idea to use this type of technology for cooking food.

The first microwaves to go on the market were 1161 Radarange, which were produced in 1954. These microwaves were really only made for commercial use, as they were heavy and expensive.

The first design of microwave was about the size and weight of a refrigerator. It was not until the year 1967 that domestic microwaves were first marketed by Amana, a division of the company Raytheon. Due to the expense of the product it was a slow process getting initial sales. However, after a few years in production the selling power picked up.

More companies joined in the making of microwaves, and the cost began to decrease. By 1971 the quality and capabilities of the product were becoming more sophisticated.

Percy LeBaron Spencer obtained a total of 120 patents during his lifetime. When he tried out the experiment of cooking food using a magnetron, he first used unpopped kernels of corn. He held the kernels in front of the magnetron, and watched as each one of them popped into fluffy balls of corn. Spencer was born in 1894, and lived until 1970. He was an American, born in Howland, Main, who went to work in a mill when he was 12 years old. He learned wireless telegraphy when he joined the US navy, in 1912.

In 1920, he started working for the Raytheon company who produced magnetrons. He discovered that punching out and soldering magnetron parts was a much more effective way of manufacturing them, as opposed to the machine method the company already had in practice. As a result the company went from producing 17 magnetrons a day, to 2,600 units per day. He became senior vice president of the company, and a building there is named after him.

The invention of the microwave lead to many new ideas within the cooking industry, and was especially useful for large companies who needed food cooked quickly. Large industries began using the microwave to roast coffee beans and peanuts, and also dry potato chips. The fact that these machines could also defrost meat was an advantage to any industry that happened to have a microwave. When microwaves first came into production a domestic one was selling for $1295, compared to now where you can invest in ones as cheap as 50 dollars.