100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Microwave Oven
Year of Invention: 1946

What Is It? A device that uses microwaves instead of external heat to cook
food.

Who Invented It? Percy Spencer (in Boston)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

The microwave oven revolutionized American cooking. Publishers have had to rewrite their cookbooks to provide microwave directions. Restaurants and homebuilders have redesigned their kitchens and kitchen concepts. Microwaves save energy and space. They cut cooking time by up to 80 percent and are the first great leap forward in cooking technology in a thousand years.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

Always humans have cooked by using a fire or stove to apply heat from outside the thing being cooked and heating it slowly through to the middle. All cooking development focused on controlling the flame, evening its heat, and controlling the way heat worked its way into food. No one was looking for an entirely new approach to cooking.


How Was the Microwave Invented?

Percy Spencer had every reason to be a troubled failure in life. He was born in a small town in Maine, and his father died before Spencer turned two. His mother left home shortly thereafter. Spencer was raised by an aunt and uncle. When Spencer was seven, that uncle died. In order to help support the family, Spencer dropped out of school as a 12-year-old and took a job in a local factory.

In 1910, a paper mill hired 16-year-old Spencer to help install their first electrical system. Two years later, Spencer, fascinated by electronics and especially by the newly invented radio, joined the navy to be a radio operator. After his tour, he joined a company making radio tubes for the army. In 1928 (still with no formal education beyond sixth grade) he was hired by Raytheon to design and build better radio tubes.

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