A Potted History Of The Microwave Oven
Image Credit: Microwave oven

The first food item to be “cooked” via microwave heating was a peanut cluster bar. 

The origin story of the microwave oven often mentions a detail about its accidental discovery by Percy Spencer, an engineer, in 1939, while he was testing a magnetron for the US military: Midway through his tests, Spencer is said to have put his hand in his pocket, only to find that the chocolate he’d slipped in there earlier, had fully melted. This melted chocolate led Spencer to experiment with, and create the microwave oven. (Prior to this, the technology had never been used in conjunction with food.)

However, Spencer’s grandson has clarified that it was not chocolate that was in the self-taught engineer's pocket that day; it was the aforementioned peanut cluster bar, which he used to feed squirrels. As Popular Mechanics notes in its deep-dive into the invention of the microwave oven, chocolate has a much lower melting point; the fact that it was a peanut bar was what made its liquefied state remarkable.

The second food to be tested in a rudimentary microwave “oven” was an egg. It exploded all over the kettle Spencer had placed it in, with a fair bit splattering in the immediate external vicinity too. 

The third food to be tested — and the first item to actually be cooked with this new technology — was popcorn.

In 1946: A Boston restaurant tested the efficacy of the microwave oven, making it the first-known commercial use of the device.

In 1947: The first commercially available microwave weighed a whopping 350 kg and was about five-and-a-half feet tall. Its price tag was even more eyewatering: between $2,000-$5,000; the latter in today’s context would roughly equal $60,000.

In 1955: First microwave oven meant for domestic use is launched. The appliance won't become popular until nearly two decades later.


Occupying a space between the mundane (most of us use it) and the mystical (not all of us understand it), it is unsurprising that the microwave oven has become a kitchen appliance that horror movies love to capitalise on.

From evil gremlins to hapless victims, there’s something about the microwave — maybe the lit interior, its low whirring, carcinogen conspiracies, or that universally recognised chime signalling the end of its task — that lends itself well to a sinister sentiment, a sense of foreboding. Microwaves ovens are often where bombs are hidden in a certain type of action film. The chime usually is the split-second precursor to an all-out explosion. Sometimes, the microwave itself is possessed, threatening its owners with a blistering fate unless its supremacy is accepted.

There are positive spins on the microwave oven as well, mainly in the sci-fi genre. In The MisInventions Of Milo Weatherby, two genius kids fashion a time travel machine out of one. In author Allen Steele’s Arkwright series, a new starship is spurred by microwave technology. 

And all we use our microwaves for, is to reheat dal.