The Kitchen Revolution Brought on by the Microwave

Topics: Microwave Oven

A box-like stainless-steel enclosure. One face of the box has a door indicated by the handle and a semi-translucent glass window. Next to this door is an operating console, which is indicated by an array of buttons. The numbers 0-9 are included, as well as “start,” “stop,” and a variety of other functions. The buttons indicate how one would use and program different settings. Inside the door is a circular ceramic plate on a track that spins. A light turns on when the door is opened.

There are also vents on the inside left and right walls. The door latches shut when closed. The whole enclosure is sitting on rubber feet.

The microwave oven has become an essential appliance in any modern-day kitchen. It serves as a method of heating and reheating foods or beverages in a shorter amount of time compared to the conventional gas oven or stovetop. As well as conserving time, the microwave only uses electricity to operate which in turn makes it cheaper to use.

The whole business and food categories have formed from the popularization of microwave ovens in America; however, it is no surprise that microwave ovens have gained the recognition they did. The advanced technology used within allows the microwave oven to improve on some of the disadvantages of conventional cooking methods, but by no means put them to rest.

Since microwave ovens have been invented, they have undergone many changes, making them more efficient. Surprisingly enough, the microwave oven was invented by accident in 1946 by a man named Dr.

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Percy LeBaron Spencer. It was Spencer who realized that microwaves had caused the chocolate in his pocket to melt. At the time he was working with magnetrons, which are vacuum tubes that give off microwave radiation. These were a part of his research in working on radars that were to be used in World War II. After Spencer had this realization he conducted several other experiments, all proving his theory that microwaves could be used to heat and cook food. A patent for this discovery was released in 1950 and was very primitive compared to present-day microwave ovens. It shows the magnetrons producing the microwaves and being pointed at a single kernel of popcorn. Within one year of this discovery, Raytheon, the company Spencer was working for, released the “Radarange,” the first microwave oven. However, they were large and expensive, exactly what consumers did not want. Early models were mainly used in industrial kitchens and failed in the consumer market. It wasn’t until 1965 when Raytheon bought Amana, an appliance company that helped Jan. 24, 1950, 2,495,429 produce the first commercially successful microwave oven. It sold for $495 and was small enough to fit on the countertop, which put itself above gas ovens.

The materials needed to construct a microwave oven have not changed dramatically since its invention. Like any piece of technology, it often takes mistakes that are to be improved upon. With the first microwave ovens, it was their size and price. The component limiting the size in the early models was the magnetrons. Once Raytheon was able to reduce the size of the magnetrons reducing the size of the microwave ovens followed. Then as Japanese companies began to distribute cheaper models, the microwave oven made its way into the everyday lives of people around the world.

Within the cycle of the invention, the microwave has also had embellishments added. For example, microwaves with added functions in the control panel like a clock take away from the original function of heating foods. As the microwave began to gain recognition many questions were raised about the safety of heating food with electromagnetic radiation. This can be partly blamed on the lack of information on how this technology works.

Understanding how the microwave oven works are essential in knowing before questioning the safety of the technology. While Dr. Spencer was working on these magnetrons producing the electromagnetic waves the chocolate in his pocket happened to absorb the radiation, or the energy moving through space. The water, fat, and sugar molecules within the chocolate then “vibrate back and forth as they try to align themselves with the fast-changing electric field set up by the microwaves.” The motion of these particles is what heats the food.

Plastic, paper, and ceramic containers can be used to heat foods because microwaves pass through these materials. As Americans began to ignore the speculated health risks they came to accept the efficiency and convenience of the microwave.

The microwave oven has become a piece of technology we use daily, but it has also grown to hold certain connotations and consequences making it sociotechnisociotechnicalf the microwave’s extreme efficiency and affordability, families who can’t afford to cook their meals have to resort to premade frozen microwavable meals, which are not as healthy as a home cooked meals. This in turn leads to an increase in child obesity and other health risks. Microwave ovens also shorten the amount of time it takes to prepare meals, resulting in families spending less time together. Connotations of quality also go along with meals that have been microwaved; usually, they are viewed as being of lesser quality. However, that is not to detract from the countless applications of the microwave oven as a tool. “Industries began using microwaves to dry potato chips and roast coffee beans and peanuts. Meats could be defrosted, precooked, and tempered. Even the shucking of oysters was made easier by microwaves… In time, microwaves were being used to dry cork, ceramics, paper, leather, tobacco, textiles, pencils, flowers, wet books, and match heads.” 5 This technology is very much still useful, both domestically and within many industries.

The microwave oven has revolutionized how we use the kitchen. It uses the technology of electromagnetic radiation that had never before been applied to food. To think this discovery was made by accident and is now in the kitchen of 90% of Americans is truly amazing. And like any piece of technology, the microwave oven has had its kickbacks as well as its significant accomplishment. When looking at a culture that is obsessed with making things more efficient it is no wonder the microwave oven took the path that it did.


  1. Brown, David E. “Consumer Products.” In Inventing Modern America: From the Microwave to the Mouse. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002.
  2. Spencer, Percy L. Method of Treating Foodstuffs. Raytheon Mfg Co, assignee. Patent US2495429 A. 24 Jan. 1950. Print.
  3. Sobey, Edwin J. C. “Kitchen.” In A Field Guide to Household Technology. Chicago, Ill.: Chicago Review Press, 2007.
  4. Carlisle, Rodney. Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries: All the Milestones in  Ingenuity-From the Discovery of Fire to the Invention of the Microwave Oven. John Wiley & Sons, 2005.
  5. Sharpe, Ed. “30th Anniversary of Microwave Oven Marks Revolution in America’s Home Kitchens.” Microwave Oven. Accessed February 24, 2015.

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The Kitchen Revolution Brought on by the Microwave. (2022, Aug 08). Retrieved from

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