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Who Invented the Microwave Oven?



Percy Spencer invented the microwave oven in 1945.

More Info: Many people are credited with inventing some portions of the microwave oven, but it was Percy Spencer who tested and invented the use of microwave radiation to cook food in a contained appliance.

The Invention Revolves around the Magnetron

A magnetron is a device that produces power in a microwave frequency.  It was invented in the early 1900’s by Albert Hull, an employee of General Electric, who could find no practical use for it.  Prior to World War II John Randall and Harry Boot modified Hull’s version making it much more powerful.  It was then used during the war to increase sonar capability.  It was while working on one of these devices for Raytheon that engineer Percy Spencer noted its effect on food when the chocolate bar in his pocket melted from contact with the microwaves.  In a matter of months, Spencer had constructed an appliance that contained and secured microwaves inside that could be used to cook food.  [1]

The Microwave Oven’s Evolution

1947: Raytheon patented Spencer’s invention and unveiled it to the world in 1947 as the Radarrange.  The first unit weighed more than five-hundred pounds, was more than five feet tall, and had a price tag of nearly $3,000.00, which would equate to more than forty thousand dollars today.  [2] [3]

1955: The Tappan Stove company entered into a licensing agreement with Raytheon to provide consumers with a smaller more compact version of the microwave oven that would be more suitable to home use.  Its $1300.00 price tag set it out of reach for most consumers. [4]

1967: Two years after acquiring Amana Refrigerators, Raytheon brought to the market the first countertop microwave, which was smaller and more reliable than previous version.  The $495.00 price tag still put it out of reach for 99% of consumers. [5] [6] Litton Industries, another defense manufacturer, unveiled its home model that had a compact square design similar to today’s microwave ovens. [7]

1986-Today: Just 15 years after the first countertop model was introduced more than 20% of American households had a microwave.  Today that number has increased to  more than 90%. [8] [9]




[1] Florida State University Magnet Lab
The Magnetron

[2][4][5] Bureau of Labor Statistics
Hedonic Quality Adjustment Methods for Microwave Ovens in US CPI

[3] Measuring Worth
Real Value Calculator

[6][8]National Center for Policy Analysis
Technology and Economic Growth in the Information Age
(under the New Technologies Spread Faster heading)

[7] Litton Corporation
Litton Products

[9]Reserve Bank of Dallas—1997 Annual Report; Cox and Alm
Time Well Spent: The Declining Real Cost of Living in America

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