The 20 most fascinating accidental inventions

4. Microwave oven

Jacob Turcotte

It started out more than five feet tall, weighed 750 pounds, and cost about $5,000. The first microwave, the Radarange, built by Raytheon Corporation in 1947, was based on the accidental discovery of a melted chocolate bar.

Several years prior to Raytheon’s first attempt at the microwave oven, a scientist, Percy Spencer, experimented with a new magnetron, a vacuum tube that releases energy to power radar equipment.

Radar was vital during World War II. It allowed for easier detection of enemy planes and ships, especially German U-Boats. Raytheon scientists looked for new ways to improve the magnetron and increase productivity during a time of great need.

Cooking a TV dinner was not on their to-do lists. It was only by chance – and after the war had ended – that one scientist finally noticed one of the magnetron’s other possible uses.

While working with the device, Spencer noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket started melting. He attributed it to the microwaves and, like any good scientist, conducted more tests.

First, Spencer tried corn kernels. After they successfully popped, Spencer tried heating more foods. The results led engineers to attempt to contain the microwaves in a safe enclosure, the microwave oven.

The countertop microwave oven that’s in almost all American kitchens today was first introduced to the public in 1967 by the Amana Corporation (acquired by Raytheon in 1965).

For more on how technology intersects daily life, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

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