Another anniversary worth noting.
On January 24, 1950, the U.S. Patent Office awarded Percy L. Stevens patent # 2,495,429, for his “Method of Treating Foodstuffs” with waves from a magnetron oscillator. Sixty years ago today Percy Stevens changed culinary life forever.
You guessed it: The microwave oven.
On CBS “Sunday Morning” Charles Osgood said that in 1975 microwave oven sales surpassed conventional oven sales for the first time. This is more remarkable because the first commercial microwave in 1955 was too big for home kitchens, and at $1,300, too pricey. Japanese modifications of the magnetron to shrink it made microwave ovens much like those we have today ready for the market for the first time in 1967. Eight years from market entry to majority of the market.
It only makes sense: Today offices on every floor of every office building have microwave ovens in their break rooms, but almost none ever had conventional ovens. College students have microwaves in their dormitory rooms. Even gasoline stations offer foods for microwaving by customers.
Spencer’s invention makes it possible to heat foods quickly with a relatively small device, in thousands of places where no conventional oven would work well, or be welcomed.
According to legend — accurate? — Spencer got the idea after working with magnetron tubes while carrying a chocolate bar in his pocket. He noticed the chocolate bar melted. Within a short time he had demonstrated the ability to pop popcorn and burst an egg with the microwaves from the tube.
Sign of the changing times: Many children today do not know how to pop popcorn without a microwave. Legend has it that children in elementary school ask where the Massachusetts natives kept the microwaves with which they popped the corn that delighted the settlers of the Plymouth Colony.
- Last year’s post on “Forgotten anniversaries.”
- Story on Spencer and his invention at Rhapsody in Books
- Entry in Patents: Ingenious Inventions: How they Work and How They Came to Be, by Ben Ikenson
- History of the microwave oven at IdeaFinder.com
- Invention at Play – story of the microwave from the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian