Microwaves are magical
things. They heat, they cook, they
reheat, they defrost. But surely they haven't always been so great, right?
They must have once electrocuted
housewives and mutated professors
, right? Well, apparently not. Not in the
history they'd have us believe, anyway...
It all started in 1946 when Dr Percy Spencer was messing around with
radars and the newfangled magnetron, a vacuum tube. Upon discovering
the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted, Dr Percy was suspicious (we can
assume it happened in winter as he thought melted chocolate was a weird
thing). He followed a hunch and put some corn kernels near the magnetron.
They popped, like popcorn, and his scientific interest was raised. The
next day, the good Doctor placed an egg near the tube, and it was found
to be hot... then it exploded.
Dr Spencer realised this magnetron tube was a huge deal, as it had the
ability to heat things immensely in spite of it working in a low-density
energy level. He realised things could be heated even more if they were
enclosed in a metal box from which the magnetrons rays were unable to
escape. As a result, Dr S made such a box and noted with interest the
higher density electromagnetic field within it. In other words, the rays
bounced around inside, couldn't get out, and cooked
whatever was in the metal box.
Six months later, Raytheon (an electrical engineering company) put a
patent on the first microwave. In 1947, the microwave was being used in an
experimental capacity in a Boston restaurant. That first heatbox cost
$5000, weighed over 750 pounds and was 5'6" (for the metric kiddies,
that's around 340kgs and 1.6 metres), and had to be cooled with a water
That same year, engineers got rid of that pesky water cooling system and
downsized the microwave to fridge-sized. The "Radarange" was the first
common oven and cost around $2500. This was followed by the first domestic
oven, sold around 1953 by Tappan, which was a steal at just $1295.
It took more then another decade before the microwave was adjusted to the
public need, as it was 1967 before the benchtop 100 volt $500 microwave
In 1976, things had certainly changed. 60% of American
homes had a mini-nuke oven (if you didn't, what was with your family? How did
you cook, what did you eat?). Today the microwave is smaller than ever- so small that
some ovens, like mine, are too tiny for a regular sized plate to turn around in there.
Of course, following the laws of technological advancement, it was cheap, so I can't
Now we've got convection microwaves, heat and moisture probes and
microwaves which give the recipe for various foods on their little LCD
screens. Whatever next?
- Dr Spencer was a self-taught
scientist- he didn't even finish high school. In spite of this, he was inducted into
the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1999 ( don't stay in school, kids!).
- According to www.gallawa.com/microtech, microwaves used in microwave ovens oscillate
at 2450 million cycles per second (MHz). On the radar band, this is slightly above the
frequencies used for UHF TV channels, and safely within the NON-ionizing region. Still,
if you exposed an eyeball to microwaves for too long, it would cook like an egg. Mmmmm.
- Microwaving water alone will not result in "exploding water".
An urban myth has circulated around, telling of the dangers of microwaving
a cup of water as the water will explode into the face of whoever gets
the cup out of the microwave. No, it won't. Calm down.
info from www.gallawa.com/microtech and