Percy Spencer, just after the end of World War II, was working on a power tube for the Raytheon Corporation. Nothing might have come of it, if it weren’t for one heroic chocolate bar that gave its life for modern society.
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The magnetron was designed to power radar sets. Obviously these were important during the war, and after the war, Raytheon wanted to continue their research, taking advantage of the booming economy. While Spencer worked, he walked in front of the tube. This was not wise move, but Spencer might not have known how inadvisable it was had he not had a chocolate bar in his pocket. It’s not clear whether he decided soon after that it was time for a snack or whether he felt something warm and trickly in his pants and looked down to see alarming brown liquid. Either way, he noticed that the chocolate bar had turned to goo.
Being an inquisitive sort, he grabbed some popcorn kernels, put them in a bag, and waved them in front of the tube. The kernels popped without any discernable heat being applied to them. Still not satisfied, he grabbed an egg and waved it front of the tube. It exploded all over a colleague (who was hopefully not also in front of the tube). It was clear they were on to something.
It took a while before the microwave caught on. It was used in ships and trains, where a great deal of food had to be prepared fast for people who didn’t expect it to be good. Its price tag, and the fact that it weighed several hundred pounds, kept it out of homes for decades. When it started coming into restaurants, finicky cooks quit rather than work with something that couldn’t brown meat or crisp potatoes.
It was only when speed became a major selling point that the average household gave up a warming oven and took up microwaves. Odds are you are warming up a cup of noodles in the microwave while you read this. Give thanks to the humble chocolate bar that let you do that. Oh, and Spencer probably helped, too.