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Homes – 1990s Kitchen Display: Microwave Oven

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Microwave ovens have been a feature of most of our kitchens since the early 1990’s. But did you know that the first microwave ovens were available way back in 1947? These early appliances known then as ‘RadaRanges’ cost around £2500 (the equivalent of £42,000 today), weighed approximately 340kg and stood 1.6m tall!

The history of the microwave does not have its roots in food preparation. In 1940 the cavity magnetron tube was invented by scientists at Birmingham University. The magnetron tube became hugely important during World War II as it was used by the Allied forces of Europe and America to emit microwave radar signals to detect distant enemy aircraft and ships.

In 1945, an American engineer, Percy Spencer was carrying out maintenance work on a live radar set: he felt a tingling sensation throughout his body and noticed that a chocolate bar in his pocket had completely melted. After some investigation he determined that it was the microwaves being emitted by the magnetron tube in the radar set which had caused the chocolate to get warm enough to melt.

Percy Spencer went on to build a metal box with an opening on one side and the magnetron tube poking through into another side of it. He used this box to heat his lunches. On one occasion he heated a whole egg in the device, which exploded in his face. At this point, he added a door to the box to prevent any further such incidents – the first microwave oven!