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Here's How A Melted Candy Bar Led To The Invention Of The Microwave

The first microwave weighed 750 pounds!

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Imagine that you just got home after a long day. You have a terrible headache and the last thing you want to do is cook a full meal. Fortunately, you have ramen and water so you pop it in the microwave — and zap — dinner is ready!!

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Microwaves are sanity savers.

Well, thanks to an engineer named Percy Spencer and a melted candy bar, we have this wonderful thing called the microwave!

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It all started in 1945. Spencer was an engineer who had been working at an appliance company, Raytheon, for more than 20 years.

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Raytheon — formerly the American Appliance Company — was cofounded by Vannevar Bush. If that name rings a bell, it's because he's most known for his participation in organizing the Manhattan Project. Today, Raytheon is a major U.S. defense contractor.

Spencer had been conducting radar research using magnetrons (totally casual) when one day he noticed the candy bar in his pocket had melted!!!

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Magnetrons are basically vacuum tubes that generate short radio waves, aka microwaves. These are really important when it comes to radar navigation.

What in the world?! Spencer began investigating his discovery. He ran the test again, this time using an egg. The egg exploded.

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He did it again with popcorn kernels, and guess what happened next...

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They popped, obviously.

It was now clear to Spencer: you can quickly cook food using microwaves!

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By 1947, Raytheon had created the first microwave used to cook food. The Radarange was the size of a refrigerator, weighed 750 pounds, and could cost up to $3,000. (That's $24,000 in 2017 dollars!)

Since most people were skeptical of microwave cooking and didn't have $24,000 in pocket change, Radarange sales were few and far between.
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Since most people were skeptical of microwave cooking and didn't have $24,000 in pocket change, Radarange sales were few and far between.

It wasn't until 1965 that companies introduced a countertop microwave that was much smaller than the original Radarange. It sold for about $500 ($3,200 today).

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As technology advanced and skepticism faded, microwave sales boomed. 40,000 units were sold in 1970, and more than a million sold just five years later! People were believin'!

By 1975, microwave oven sales surpassed gas ranges. No wonder, just look at how small and compact this guy is!
Frederic Lewis / Getty Images

By 1975, microwave oven sales surpassed gas ranges. No wonder, just look at how small and compact this guy is!

Today, about 90 percent of American households have a microwave and enjoy the freedom of quickly reheating their leftovers — all thanks to an engineer and a candy bar.

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Yes, we really did win!

So, the next time you heat up your leftovers, eat some chocolate, too! I imagine that's what Percy Spencer would want you to do.

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