We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

How Was the Inventor of the Microwave Rewarded for His Discovery?

Margaret Lipman
By
Updated May 16, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

In the modern world, the microwave has become an indispensable appliance in households across the globe. According to a 2023 survey, around 90% of households in the United States own a microwave. Yet despite its widespread use, the origin of this popular and extremely useful appliance is likely to be unfamiliar to most people who own microwave ovens.

Percy Spencer was a self-taught physicist whose ingenious idea led to the creation of the microwave. Born in Howland, Maine, in 1894, Spencer received a cursory education and, by the fifth grade, had left school to work in a factory. He later applied to work at a local paper mill and was hired to install electricity in the plant, despite lacking formal training. Through sheer dedication and a strong desire to expand his learning, Spencer became an accomplished electrician and later joined the U.S. Navy as a radio operator. He independently pursued physics, trigonometry, chemistry, and calculus in his spare time, reading from textbooks while on night watch. After his naval service, Spencer joined the American Appliance Company, later known as Raytheon.

During World War II, Raytheon grew rapidly. The company was contracted by the U.S. Department of Defense to produce combat radar equipment to help the war effort. Raytheon was responsible for creating cavity magnetrons, high-powered vacuum tubes with cavities that produce microwave beams, enabling radar systems to detect enemy aircraft and ships. Spencer discovered a way of producing these magnetrons on a wider scale and was awarded the Distinguished Public Service Award by the U.S. Navy for his contribution.

But how did vacuum tubes and radar systems lead to the invention of a household appliance for cooking food? As the story goes, one day in 1945, while working with magnetrons, Spencer was standing in front of an active radar set when the chocolate bar in his pocket melted. Hypothesizing that electromagnetic radiation could be used to cook food, he tested his theory by popping popcorn kernels and cooking an egg near the active radar set. Spencer continued experimenting and came up with a design for the microwave involving a rectangular metal box. Raytheon spotted an opportunity to revolutionize food preparation and filed a patent for the microwave later that year. In 1946, the first iteration of the microwave oven, the Radarange, hit the U.S. market.

However, the microwave was not an instant success. Many people feared the effects of microwave radiation, while the cost and size of early microwaves made them impractical and unaffordable for the average American household. The first microwave ovens were almost 6 feet (1.8 m) long, weighed more than 750 pounds (340.2 kg), and cost a whopping $5,000. However, as microwave technology advanced, designs were modified to make microwaves much more affordable and practical, and households began to see the appeal of purchasing one to free up time in the kitchen.

Unfortunately, Spencer received little compensation for his role in the creation of the microwave and never received royalties from his invention. He was merely paid a one-time $2 bonus that Raytheon gave employees for patented inventions. Spencer reportedly received 300 patents during his time working for Raytheon. However, his invention wasn’t wholly overlooked. Despite his lack of formal education, Spencer was granted an honorary doctorate from the University of Massachusetts. Raytheon named a building at the Raytheon Missile Defense Center in Massachusetts in his honor.

Miraculous microwaves:

  • In January 1947, the first public microwave was placed in New York City's Grand Central Terminal. It sold freshly made hot dogs.

  • Microwaving spinach preserves an impressive amount of folate, a nutrient essential for cell growth and function. In contrast, stove cooking leads to a loss of around 77% of folate content in spinach.

  • When heated in a microwave, eggs in their shells can explode dramatically due to an increase in pressure from the steam that builds up inside them.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
Discussion Comments
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
Learn more
WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.