Maytag® over-the-range microwave in light brown cabinetry

The Evolution and History of Microwaves

Modern microwaves make it simple to defrost frozen food, move snacks through the cooking process and get them on the table in a matter of minutes. Use this guide to learn more about who invented the microwave, how the technology was discovered and the modern microwave features that make mealtimes easier.

The Invention of the Microwave Oven

Before the modern microwave, preparing hot food meant slow cooking, roasting, heating or steaming food in the oven or on the stovetop. Microwaves are now a staple of modern kitchens, making it quick and easy to reheat, cook or even crisp meals and snacks in a matter of minutes. Read on to learn more about how microwaves became a part of today’s kitchen essentials.

What Year Was the Microwave Invented?

The first U.S patent for what would become the modern microwave was filed in 1945, though microwaves weren’t commercially available until 1946. Due to their size and price tag, original microwave models were typically only found in canteens, restaurants and ship galleys over the next two decades.

Who Made the First Microwave?

Percy Spencer—an American engineer—worked with Raytheon Laboratories to develop the first functional microwave oven. Spencer worked closely with compact cavity magnetrons (a microwave oven’s core component) found in live radar sets during World War II, during which time he noticed a candy bar melting in his pocket.

He went on to experiment with the compact cavity magnetron tube, directing it towards other foods like eggs and popcorn as he built a metal box and door to contain the microwaves emitted by the tube.

What Was the Microwave Originally Made For?

The compact cavity magnetron tube is primarily to thank for a microwave’s ability to heat food, but its original purpose was tactical. Invented in 1940 at Birmingham University in England, militaries used the tube to emit radar signals that could detect enemy ships and aircraft during World War II.

When Did Microwaves Become Mainstream?

Countertop microwaves like these Maytag brand models were finally available for home use in 1967 and sold by Amana brand for just under $500. Due to their price, microwave ovens didn’t become popular until the late 1970s when technology advanced and prices went down.

By the late 1990s, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that nine of every ten American homes owned a microwave oven. The earliest residential countertop microwaves operated with just 115 watts of power.

What Are Modern Microwaves Capable Of?

Basic modern microwaves let you configure power levels, typically include a defrost feature and may have a handful of presets for foods like potatoes or popcorn. Today’s microwaves can also include additional features that help you do more with your microwave, including the following features on select Maytag brand microwaves:

  • Over-the-range configurations: Maytag® over-the-range microwaves clear up space on the countertop and vent the air below to help eliminate odors and smoke.

  • Convection Mode: Select Maytag® microwaves include Convection Mode which lets you bake and roast foods right in the microwave.

  • Sensor Cooking: Maytag® microwaves with sensor cooking adjust cooking times and power levels to the ideal settings to properly cook the dish inside. 

  • Dual Crisp feature: The Dual Crisp feature on select Maytag® microwaves uses an extended cycle to crisp up items like fries, pizza and more with a broiler-like element. 

  • Control Lockout Option: Select Maytag® microwaves include the Control Lockout Option that lets you lock the control panel to avoid accidental button presses while cleaning.

Timeline of the Microwave Through History

  • 1940: The cavity magnetron tube was invented at Birmingham University in England. Though initially used to detect enemy vessels during World War II, physicists Harry Boot and John Randall invented the device that would soon be used to power the microwave oven.

  • 1945: Percy Spencer, an American engineer, noticed a candy bar melting in his pocket while in close proximity to an operating magnetron tube. His observation led him to experiment with heating other foods and eventually file a patent for the first microwave.  

  • 1946: The first commercial microwave made its way into restaurants, canteens and ship galleys. Known as the Radarange, this microwave oven weighed over 750 pounds, used 3,000 watts of power, was nearly 6 feet tall and cost roughly $5,000. 

  • 1955: Appliance manufacturer Tappan makes the first residential microwave. It’s as large as a stove and costs nearly $1,300, rarely making it into homes.  

  • 1967: Amana released the first countertop microwave for residential use. The microwave cost just under $500 and used 115 watts of power. 

  • 1970s: Technological advances reduce the cost of manufacturing microwaves, leading to a sharp increase in sales. 

  • 1997: Statistics report that 90 percent of all American households own a microwave oven.

Explore Maytag® Microwaves

Maytag® countertop and over-the-range microwaves simplify meal prep with convenient and reliable features. Select models come equipped with sensor cooking that automatically adjusts cooking time and power to cook your meal the right way. Some models even include Convection Cooking Mode so you can crisp, roast and bake right in the microwave.

Learn More About Microwaves with Maytag Brand

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