Author Susan Benton

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microwave

Numerous inventions have come about accidentally, and so it is with the microwave oven. But what is really amazing is that the man who stumbled onto the idea was a self-taught engineer who had been an orphan and had dropped out of school when he was twelve years old to work in a spool mill.

In 1902, when he was eighteen, Percy Spencer joined the U.S. Navy with an interest in the very new field of wireless communications. He learned everything he could, becoming an expert in radio technology. From textbooks, he also taught himself trigonometry, calculus, chemistry, physics, and metallurgy.

By the 1940s, Percy Spencer worked for the Raytheon Company as a radar specialist. One day as he fiddled with a magnetron, he noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. He wondered why.

He experimented with other foods. Popcorn popped. Eggs exploded. He built a metal box and fed microwave power into it knowing that the waves could not pass through the exterior walls. That is how he discovered that foods would cook faster than in a regular oven.

In 1945, Raytheon filed for a patent in Spencer's name. The first microwave oven was used by a Boston restaurant, stood 5.5 feet tall, and cost $5000!! It wasn't until 1967 that a countertop model became available.

Percy Spencer stayed at Raytheon, eventually becoming Senior Vice President. He earned over one hundred patents, a remarkable feat for someone with so little formal education.

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