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Fascinating facts about Percy Lebaron Spencer
inventor of the Microwave Oven in 19
45.
Percy Spencer 
Inventor: Percy Lebaron Spencer
Percy Spencer portrait courtesy Raytheon Corporation
Criteria: First to invent. First to patent. Modern prototype.
Birth: July 9, 1894 in Howland, Maine
Death: September 8, 1970
Nationality: American

Shortly after the end of World War II, Percy Spencer, already known as an electronics genius and war hero, was touring one of his laboratories at the Raytheon Company. He stopped momentarily in front of a magnetron, the power tube that drives a radar set. Feeling a sudden and strange sensation, Spencer noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had begun to melt.

Spencer, who obtained 120 patents in his lifetime, knew how to apply his curiosity. So he did what any good inventor would -- he went for some popcorn. Spencer didn't feel like a snack, he asked for unpopped popcorn. Holding the bag of corn next to the magnetron, Spencer watched as the kernels exploded into puffy white morsels.

From this simple experiment, Spencer and Raytheon developed the microwave oven. The first microwave oven weighed a hefty 750 pounds and stood five feet, six inches. At first, it was used exclusively in restaurants, railroad cars and ocean liners -- places where large quantities of food had to be cooked quickly.

But culinary experts quickly noticed the oven's shortcomings. Meat refused to brown. French fries turned white and limp. To make matters worse, Raytheon chairman Charles Adams' cook quit because Adams demanded he prepare food with a microwave oven.

In fact, it took decades after the invention of the microwave oven for it to be refined to a point where it would be useful to the average consumer. Today, Percy Spencer's radar boxes melt chocolate and pop popcorn in millions of homes around the world.

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
Invention of the Microwave Oven    from The Great Idea Finder

ON THE BOOKSHELF:

100 Inventions That Shaped World History
by Bill Yenne, Morton, Dr. Grosser (Editor) / Paperback - 112 pages (1983)
/ Bluewood Books 
This book contains inventions from all around the world from microchips to fire. This is a really good book if you are going to do research on inventions.
Accidents May Happen: 50 Inventions Discovered by Mistake
by Charlotte Foltz Jones, John O'Brien (Illustrator) / Hardcover - 86 pages (1996) / Delacorte
Fifty inventions discovered by mistake receive entertaining cartoon embellishment but are actually serious subjects which will delight and entertain kids.
The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle: And Other Surprising Stories About Inventions
by Don L. Wulffson / Paperback - 128 pages
(1999) / Puffin
Brief factual stories about how various familiar things were invented, many by accident, from animal crackers to the zipper.
More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave
by Ruth Schwartz Cowan / Paperback Reprint edition (February 1985) / Basic Books (Sd)
Inventions such as washing machines, cotton cloth, and even white flour acted as catalysts by giving the less well-off a chance at the comforts the prosperous already possessed, but in general it was men and children whose chores were relieved by these innovations.


ON THE WEB:
Raytheon: A History of Global Technology Leadership
Raytheon’s discovery of microwave cooking in 1945 was initially an accident, but its development, like so many others, can be credited to Percy Spencer. Spencer was the first, however, to discover that one could cook food using microwave radio signals.
(URL: www.raytheon.com/about/history.htm)
National Inventors Hall of Fame
Located at Inventure Place, the online home of creative minds. Inducted Percy Lebaron Spencer in 1999 for his invention of the High Efficiency Magnetron (Patent Number 2,408,235).
(URL: www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/136.html)
Invention Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. Featured Percy Spencer in May, 1966 for his invention of the Mictowave Oven.
(URL: web.mit.edu/invent/iow/spencer.html)
The Amana Story
In 1967, the company revolutionized the way America cooks with the introduction of the Amana Radarange® the first countertop microwave oven for the home.
(URL: www.amana.com/)
A Brief History of the Microwave Oven
Like many of today's great inventions, the microwave oven was a by-product of another technology.
(URL: www.gallawa.com/microtech/history.html)


WORDS OF WISDOM:
"He has the respect of every physicist in the country, not only for his ingenuity but for what he has learned about physics by absorbing it through his skin. He is not merely a good experimenter and a good designer; he has become, in his own right, one of the recognized individuals in a very difficult field." - Vannevar Bush



DID YOU KNOW?:

  • In 1947, Raytheon demonstrated the world’s first microwave oven and called it a "Radarange," the winning name in an employee contest.
  • 1947 - Raytheon builds its first microwave oven. Weighing over 750 pounds and standing over five feet tall, the oven is limited to commercial use.
  • 1967 - Using Raytheon’s microwave cooking technology, Amana introduces the world’s first successful 115-volt countertop microwave oven for the home.
  • Microwave ovens are now found in over 90% of US homes
  • The first microwave oven weighed over 750 pounds and stode over five feet tall.
  • Housed in refrigerator-sized cabinets, the first microwave ovens cost between $2,000 and $3,000 and were sold by Raytheon primarily to the commercial marketplace.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type This page revised October 20, 2006.
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