As the popularity of the microwave oven grows to conform to the daily lifestyle of millions of people around the world, one cannot help but ask, when did microwave ovens become popular?
In short, according to history, the first microwave ovens “Radarange” were invented in 1945 (see ‘When Was the Microwave Invented?‘ post); but they were not made available for household consumption until 1967. Their popularity begin to rise in 1970s until their peak US sales in 2004.
However, in 1997, data record shows that 9 out of 10 American household owned a microwave oven (US Bureau of Labor Statistics) with substantial increase in sales around the world – over the next decade.
Microwave ovens have made life easier and cooking less stressful than it was before its invention. Nowadays, people can effortlessly cook their popcorn under five minutes in a microwave oven.
Apart from reheating frozen foods and the simpler popcorn, the use of microwave oven has progressed into any and all sorts of cooking from boiling to the far more complex forms of baking.
Let us explore how they rose in popularity.
Also Read: Who Repairs Microwave Ovens?
When did Microwave Ovens Become Popular?
After the invention of microwave ovens for cooking in 1946, they were not exactly popular immediately. Initially they were made to be used in restaurant settings.
They were large and clunky and had to be water cooled. The pioneers in making commercial microwave ovens were the Raytheon that unveiled their Radarange microwave ovens in 1946.
It took about two decades before it became available for household purchase in 1967. Although, during this time, most household were just newly introduced to this strange appliance that “beeps”.
The popularity of microwave oven began to rise in the late 70s as more than 20% of American household had one. However, this might not be the case for other countries of the world.
Microwave ovens became popular around 1980s in the UK and also in Japan around 1975.
There were a few hiccups in between such as the feud between Consumers Union and the FDA whereby the former accused of microwave ovens to be “not completely safe”, whereas, the later defended its position and their testing methods.
Despite all the warning and scares, the sales of microwave ovens continued to soar until about 2004.
What Made Microwave Oven Popular in the 70s?
Conventional ovens have been in homes for as long as its invention. But then came microwave ovens; the invention of this gadgets changed the definition of cooking to the extent that even recipes were designed to be cooked in them.
To understand what made microwave ovens become so popular in the 70s, it’s imperative to compare the appliance with the pre-existing cooking appliance which is the conventional oven. Here are some of the criteria:
Microwave oven works by generating electromagnetic waves which heats up food unlike conventional ovens which makes use of heating element to heat up the entire oven where the food is cooked.
Microwave ovens worked quickly and worked great for reheating purposes and frozen snacks, needless to mention, popcorn.
Ease of Use
Compared to conventional ovens, a microwave oven is easier to use. All you need do is to plug in the power socket, place your food inside and set your timer.
No preheating, no use of foil, no waiting for a long time, and it is easier to clean as well as it has not heating elements or racks.
As long as food are usually place in their appropriate containers before they are placed to be cooked in the microwave oven.
Microwave oven are more portable than conventional ovens hence the name countertop oven. Its reasonable size allows for more room in the kitchen.
In fact, as a result of this portability, home designers devised a way to position the microwave oven in a special cupboard to improve space in modern kitchens.
Energy usage is one the limiting factors concerning the use of conventional oven. Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise that people embraced the less energy- consuming microwave oven in the 70’s.
The most fascinating and appealing feature of the microwave oven is its ability to cook food twice as fast as any conventional oven. And unlike conventional toaster oven it doesn’t need to preheat. It saves time and at the long run saves energy. What’s not to love?
It’s not surprising that microwave ovens cost less than a regular oven. The price is affordable and it works like an oven. To top it all, it doesn’t incur installation costs. It’s a win-win for anyone who loves to cook.
A Brief History of the Microwave Oven
The idea behind the invention of microwave ovens was hatched by a brilliant Engineer named Percy Spencer after the Second World War. During this time, he worked for the Raytheon Company located in Massachusetts, United States.
This idea came to him after he realized that the chocolate bar in his pocket melted to goo when he stood by a radar equipment. That made him curious enough to investigate with a popcorn; leading to the invention of the microwave oven.
But the invention of this appliance would not be made possible without the work of John Randal and Harry Boot who invented the magnetron tube which is the key element that emits microwaves.
First Generation of Microwave Oven
Since the invention of the microwave oven in 1945, there have been several additions and innovations made possible by the advancement of technology.
The first microwave oven models “Radarange” were enormous boxes compared to the ones we know today. Standing at a height of 6 feet and weighing over 300kg, these gadgets were sold for US$5000 each.
It’s not much of a surprise that they were used mostly on trains, ships and in big shot hotels. Although in 1967, Domestic Countertop Microwave Ovens were made available for household use – they were sold for US$495 each.
Modern Day Microwave Oven
Today, microwave ovens exist in most households. They come in different sizes, colours, capacities and power outputs. With the help of technological innovations, there are a wide range of features to be found in a microwave oven.
Now, with convection microwave ovens, there are a myriad of possibilities for cooking. From defrosting to toasting to baking to broiling. Seems like the journey of 75 years actually did pay off.
In this article, we went through the history of the invention of Microwave ovens to answer the question “When did microwave ovens become popular?” We also focused on the generations of microwave oven and the innovations made since its invention.
Microwave oven has won over millions of users not only back in the last century but also in this century as well. Although, today, there are more competitions out there.
So, enjoy all your microwave oven has to offer. Don’t just reheat or “try to melt your own chocolate bar”. Percy Spencer made sure it can do so much more.
1. How much did a microwave cost in 1975?
Microwave ovens priced between $189.95 and $439.95. Naturally, there has been significant dollar inflation since 1975. According to changes in the consumer price index, what $100 bought in 1975 now costs about $354.
2. When did the microwave go on sale?
By 1955, Raytheon had begun licensing its microwave technology, and Tappan had introduced the first consumer microwave oven.
3. How much were microwaves in the 80s?
In 1980, the average retail price of a microwave oven was $425, according to Litton. While the price range is approximately $149 to $549 today, the mean has decreased to approximately $280.
4. Are new microwaves better than old?
While the latter is more energy efficient, as long as the ten-year-old machine is in good condition, both are equally safe. Microwave ovens are as safe as any other type of electric appliance.
5. What was the first microwave oven called?
Percy Spencer, an American engineer, is widely credited with inventing the modern microwave oven following World War II using radar technology developed during the conflict. It was first sold in 1946 under the name "Radarange."