A New Wave With A Groovy Way To Heat Food

By | December 24, 2018

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Chemist Robert Schiffmann, seen in miniature w. lab coat & stethoscope leaning toward plate of french fries browning in microwave, thanks to his research in making foods crisp in microwave cooking. (Photo by Evelyn Floret/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty)

An amazing product to emerge in the groovy era was the microwave, which would revolutionize the way people cook food. These days, the microwave is a convenient appliance without which the modern kitchen would not be complete. Even those who prefer homecooked meals over frozen dinners may find their recipes suggesting the use of a microwave to melt butter or other ingredients. But that has not always been the case. While the first household microwave hit the market in 1955, it was not popular with consumers until 1967. But the actual idea was conceived accidentally twenty years prior by an American engineer named Percy Spencer.

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Percy Spencer in front of early microwave equipment. Courtesy Spencer Family Archives.

Spencer was born in Howland, Maine on July 19, 1894. After his father died when he was eighteen months old, he went to live with his aunt and uncle. The family was very poor and had to live without modern conveniences, often having to hunt for their food. When Spencer was seven years old, his uncle died, and he had no choice but to leave school and get a job to support himself and his aunt. At the age of twelve, he went to work at a spool mill and it was there that he first learned about electricity, having heard that a local paper mill was to begin using it. Without the benefit of formal education, he began teaching himself about electricity and when he turned fourteen he got a job installing electricity at the paper mill.