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Things You Didn’t Know About The Microwave

The microwave is beloved for its speed and ease of use and has made its way into over 90% of American homes but we are going to share five interesting facts about the microwave that you may not know.

1. The Microwave Was Invented By Accident

Flashback that fateful day in 1945, when Raytheon engineer Percy Spencer was testing a military grade magnetron designed to track Nazi aircraft. It was around lunch time when Percy decided to grab the peanut cluster bar from his pocket for a quick snack, only to make a surprising discovery. The peanut cluster bar had melted in his pocket.

Many stories claim it was a chocolate bar but it is important to note that it was a peanut cluster because it  requires a higher temperature to melt than chocolate, which is what sparked his interest. He had a suspicion that the peanut bar melted because he was working some closely to the magnetron but he wanted to be certain.  So how do you prove that a magnetron can cook your food? Yes, blast an egg with a beam from the magnetron is exactly right, if that’s what you guessed. The egg quickly exploded from being superheated, thus confirming his theory that magnetrons could be used to cook food quickly. 

Raytheon wasted no time in patenting the idea and the first commercial microwave was ready for market by 1946, just one year after Percy’s discovery. The first model was called a Radarange and it was huge! It weighed about 750 pounds, stood 6ft tall and required plumbing to cool the tubes. It also had a high price tag of around $2000, which in 2020 would be around $28,000. So it’s not a surprise that it wasn’t a big hit at first, which leads us into our next fact.

2. The First Microwave Was HUGE!

The Raytheon Corporation produced the first commercial microwave oven in 1954; it was called the 1161 Radarange. It was as big a refrigerator but heavier and expensive — priced at $2,000 to $3,000 (the equivalent of $16,000 to $24,000 in today’s cash). The tubes in the magnetron had to be water-cooled, so plumbing installation was required. Imagine forking out $16K for a microwave!! 💸

3. Microwaves Work By Vibrating The Molecules In The Food

Ever wondered how a microwave works? When you hit the “Start” button to heat your food or drink, microwaves are produced inside the oven by an electron tube called a magnetron. The microwaves bounce within the metal interior of the oven where they are absorbed by food.  The microwaves cause water molecules in food to vibrate, producing heat that cooks the food. Boom!! Science in action!

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4. Microwaves Didn’t Make It Into Homes Until 1967

It wasn’t until 1967, nearly two decades after its inception, the microwave made it into homes in the form of Amana’s Compact Radarange. It was the first countertop microwave that was more affordable and compact making it more appealing to the masses. By 1971, the price for microwaves began to fall and new features began to appear in newer models.

5. The FDA Claims Microwaves Save More Nutrients in Food Than Other Forms of Cooking…

Over the years, there has been a lot of controversy about whether food heated by microwaves is bad for you and whether it zaps all of the nutrients from the food. According to the FDA’s website, The microwave energy is changed to heat as it is absorbed by food, and does not make food “radioactive” or “contaminated.” It also states that “Microwave cooking does not reduce the nutritional value of foods any more than conventional cooking. In fact, foods cooked in a microwave oven may keep more of their vitamins and minerals, because microwave ovens can cook more quickly and without adding water.”

6. Microwaves Do Not Cook From The “Inside-Out”

Microwaves do not cook food from the “inside-out” as many believe. Although heat is produced within the food by vibrating the water molecules, outer layers are still predominantly cooked by microwaves and the center is cooked by conduction of heat by the outer layers.

7. Most Microwave Injuries Are Caused By “Superheated” Water!

Most injuries from microwaves come from superheated water erupting from coffee mugs. What is “superheated water” you might be asking? Simply put, it is when water within an undisturbed container is heated beyond its boiling point in a microwave. The water appears to be calm but even a slight disturbance like grabbing the mug, could result in a violent eruption of superheated water.