Microwave ovens are a household entity nowadays. But, the heating principle by which they work was discovered just because of an accident. We may not even have this technology if it weren’t for American engineer Percy Spencer and his bar of chocolate. How did a bar of chocolate help him get here? Here is his intriguing story.
Spencer was in his late forties when he was working with high-powered vacuum tubes that were common in the radar technology near the end of World War 2. They were called magnetrons due to their strong magnetic properties. They also generated microwaves that were unknown at that time. While working on a project, he noticed that a bar of chocolate in his pocket began to melt all of a sudden. He knew that the temperature of the ambient atmosphere was average so it couldn’t have been the heated air that was causing this. He researched and found out that the high-energy microwaves were heating up the chocolate. He further found out that anything containing water could be heated up with this.
Microwave ovens were then simple enough to make. Just like any technology, they were huge in the beginning, and continuous engineering evolution turned them into cute little kitchen appliances we have these days. Here is one of the first microwave oven ever produced. Notice the name of the thing!
Spencer was an engineer more than anything. He knew right away that the peculiar heating phenomenon could aid cooking in years to come. He immediately got back with a bag of popcorn, and it started popping over the place. Much like we do nowadays. He patented the technology in an instant and began to make and market his product with the name “RadaRange”. Now, this was confusing because his invention didn’t clearly tell people what it did. He manufactured and sold these huge fridge-sized ovens. They needed thirty minutes before they were heated up and could be used. Their heating power was much more than required by normal household cooking. RadaRange could easily cook a potato within seconds!
So, Spencer got defeated at converting his product into people-friendly because he was no Steve Jobs. The early microwave oven was a failure because it was useful, but people couldn’t control its heating power easily. Although he failed on the financial front, his name has been included in the National Inventors Hall of Fame among many other awards. His invention is used in 96% of American homes. Thank you, legendary engineer, for noticing that chocolate bar or else I couldn’t have popcorn whenever I wanted!