Why microwaves exist because of a single bar of chocolate

The invention of microwaves start with an interesting story. The story of a man called Percy Spencer.

Percy Spencer. The inventor of mirowaves

Percy Spencer [Courtesy: theharlow.net]

Percy Spencer was born in July 19, 1894 in the United States and grew up to be an engineer.  Sometime in 1945, he had a strange experience while working with magnetrons. Magnetrons are high-powered vacuum tubes that were used in radar technology at the time. Magnetrons also generated microwaves but that wasn’t known at the time.

While working with magnetrons, he noticed that the peanut butter chocolate bar in his pocket had started to warm up and melt all of a sudden. Being the curious scientist he was, he decided to find out why his candy bar was melting. It turned out that the microwaves emitted by the magnetrons were directly responsible for the chocolate bar heating up. Microwaves were discovered as a result and it was a great discovery.

After this discovery, he performed further research into this mysterious new phenomenon.  With time, other researchers also recognized the significance of Spencer’s discovery. Applications of microwaves now include satellite communication, weather monitoring and radar technology among many others.

One of the first microwaves

One of the first microwave ovens produced [Courtesy: businessinsider.com]

Business Insider got to talk with Rod Spencer – Percy Spencer’s grandson –  regarding his grandfather’s innovation and he had quite the story for them. He said,  “My grandfather was watching a microwave testing rig, and he realized that the peanut-cluster bar in his pocket started to melt — it got quite warm”

“So he put two and two together and he decided to get some popcorn, so he sent the popcorn in and it started popping all over the place,” he continued. “The next morning, he brought in an egg. One of the engineers who was a little disbelieving in terms of a microwave’s ability to cook, just as he was looking over, the egg blew up in his face.”

It was quite the drama. Percy Spencer was an engineer but that didn’t stop him from going into business himself, especially when he realized that he could use microwaves to cook food very quickly. He patented his new invention and established a company to produce and sell out this new invention – RadaRange. RadaRange is now what is commonly known as the microwave oven. Rob Spencer had something to say about this as well.

“The early microwave ovens, and we had one, were as large as a refrigerator, would take twenty minutes to warm up before you could cook anything, but they were ten times more powerful than anything you can buy today, so a potato was cooked in thirty seconds,” he said.

“The microwave oven eventually became known as Raytheon’s largest commercial failure, and the reason why was that like so many other failures, they saw the cool technology but they didn’t understand the market,” he added.

the new generation of microwaves

A new generation microwave [Courtesy: 5oo.org]

Percy Spencer wasn’t quite the Steve Jobs apparently.  The current generation of microwave ovens have become much smaller and are now available in 96% of U.S. homes as of 2009. Percy Spencer has the credit of making our lives easier. His name is also present in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in honor of his contribution along with other greats such as Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers .

Thank you, Percy Spencer, for noticing that melting chocolate bar.

Source: Business Insider