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Microwave oven

From: William S. Hammack
Series: Stories of Technology
Length: 02:43

The microwave oven came directly from World War II technology: The Radar. Read the full description.

Default-piece-image-0 No doubt you have used your microwave oven this week to zap left over turkey, making use of its ability to heat quickly. Yet the oven nearly failed because at first it heated too fast. It appeared in 1946, a direct descendant of World War Two military technology. Thefirst oven in 1946 weighed in at 670 pounds, stood 62 inches tall, and was nearly two feet in depth and width. It was a powerful machine: You could cook a six-pound roast in two minutes and a hamburger in twenty-five seconds. The real success of the oven occurred in the mid-1960s when Raytheon acquired Amana Corporation, a successful maker of consumer refrigerators. When Amana got a hold of the oven the first thing they did was to slow it down. They redesigned it so it needed less power, just plug it into a standard outlet. This slower speed reflected a change in American's eating habits and social structure since the oven's debut in 1946. The first ovens were intended to cook whole roasts and lobsters. The patent even describes cooking "thick bodies of meat." By the mid-1960s the faster pace of life, often caused by two working parents, resulted in more packaged food, usually with smaller portions of protein. So, in the new household of the early 1970s the oven thrived as a reheater, rather than as a substitute for a conventional oven.

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Piece Description

No doubt you have used your microwave oven this week to zap left over turkey, making use of its ability to heat quickly. Yet the oven nearly failed because at first it heated too fast. It appeared in 1946, a direct descendant of World War Two military technology. Thefirst oven in 1946 weighed in at 670 pounds, stood 62 inches tall, and was nearly two feet in depth and width. It was a powerful machine: You could cook a six-pound roast in two minutes and a hamburger in twenty-five seconds. The real success of the oven occurred in the mid-1960s when Raytheon acquired Amana Corporation, a successful maker of consumer refrigerators. When Amana got a hold of the oven the first thing they did was to slow it down. They redesigned it so it needed less power, just plug it into a standard outlet. This slower speed reflected a change in American's eating habits and social structure since the oven's debut in 1946. The first ovens were intended to cook whole roasts and lobsters. The patent even describes cooking "thick bodies of meat." By the mid-1960s the faster pace of life, often caused by two working parents, resulted in more packaged food, usually with smaller portions of protein. So, in the new household of the early 1970s the oven thrived as a reheater, rather than as a substitute for a conventional oven.

Broadcast History

See series description.

Transcript

No doubt you have used your microwave oven this week to zap left over turkey, making use of its ability to heat quickly. Yet the oven nearly failed because at first it heated too fast.

The microwave oven is well over fifty years old. It appeared in 1946, a direct descendant of World War Two military technology. A company called Raytheon produced radars for the US armed forces. The heart of a radar is a vacuum tube called a magnetron. This device produces very high frequency radio waves that are absorbed by water and fat, making them rotate rapidly, thus generating heat. The engineers at Raytheon first noticed the heating effect of radar tubes during the cold Boston winters: By accident they learned that they could warm their hands using the output from a radar tube.

Raytheon's first oven in 1946 weighed in at 670 pounds, stood 62 inches tall, and was nearly two feet in depth and wi...
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