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A History of the Microwave Oven

The popular appliance resulted from a chance discovery in the 1940s

3 min read
Raytheon’s Radarange III microwave oven debuted in 1955 and was sold in limited quantities to restaurants.
Raytheon developed the first microwave oven, but it took two decades for the technology to become commercially successful. The company’s Radarange III (above) debuted in 1955 and was sold in limited quantities to restaurants.
Photo: Getty Images

THE INSTITUTEMelted chocolate in a scientist’s pocket in 1946 led to the development of an appliance that changed the way many of us cook our meals today. Percy L. Spencer, a researcher at Raytheon in Waltham, Mass., was testing communications equipment when he noticed that his candy bar heated up when he stood near a magnetron, a vacuum tube that produces microwave energy.

Spencer and other researchers at the company spent the next few months developing what was to become the first microwave oven. Raytheon unveiled the appliance—called the Radarange because the magnetron is the source of microwaves in a radar set—the following year. It sold for about US $5,000 (equivalent to approximately $64,000 today) and was marketed to commercial kitchens. It took more than 25 years for the appliance to become small enough and affordable enough to be a household staple. Despite some safety concerns, by the mid-1970s millions of microwave ovens were being sold to consumers each year.

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The Transistor at 75

The past, present, and future of the modern world’s most important invention

2 min read
A photo of a birthday cake with 75 written on it.
Lisa Sheehan
LightGreen

Seventy-five years is a long time. It’s so long that most of us don’t remember a time before the transistor, and long enough for many engineers to have devoted entire careers to its use and development. In honor of this most important of technological achievements, this issue’s package of articles explores the transistor’s historical journey and potential future.

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