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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: microwave ovens (1)

Five things about microwaves

by Dr Andi
Publish date
2 June 2011
Comments (6)

I was reminded by my mother the other day that I had once refused to eat microwaved food. It was the 1970s and I’m not sure if it was teenage rebellion or whether I was spooked by the thought of microwaves. Here are five things about microwaves - some are spooky but some are fascinating.

1. In 1945 Percy Spencer had an “Aha!” moment after a melted lolly. Percy was doing military research on radars when he noticed that the peanut choc treat in his pocket had totally melted. It was the first item of food to ever be microwaved and luckily it was a lab accident that ended well. He realised the goo in his pocket was due to the modified radio waves - or microwaves - that he was working on.

Early microwave oven An early commercial microwave on display at the House Secrets exhibition. This is a 1959 Swedish Husqvarna, Electronic 2001 ‘Cupol’. (I suppose the number ‘2001’ must have seemed like a space age term in 1959).
Image: Andi Horvath
Source: Museum Victoria

2. The mid 1970s became a microwave bonanza and they began selling like hot cakes. Up until then, microwaves had been used in the food industry, restaurants and even submarines. But it wasn’t until the various components, including the new microprocessor, had come down in price and early myths about radiation were dispelled that the commercial domestic market finally took off.

Microwave sales display A salesman looking to make a bonanza of a commission. From the State Electricity Commission of Victoria collection, Museum Victoria. (MM 009529).
Source: Museum Victoria


3. Microwaves work by jiggling water and fat molecules. A rather unattractive metal box called a ‘magnetron’ is at the heart of every microwave oven; the rest is just insulated casing. The magnetron generates the microwaves that jiggle molecules so fast that they heat up the food.

  Magnetron The magnetron - rather a good name for a super hero or a grunge band, don’t you think?
Image: Andi Horvath
Source: Museum Victoria

4. Some things don’t belong in a microwave oven. The House Secrets exhibition at Scienceworks has a display of things not to microwave because it destroys your appliance. We sacrificed a number of microwaves making this film so you don’t have to ruin yours. So don’t try this at home.

Microwave display at House Secrets The video of microwave mistakes is inside a microwave in the House Secrets exhibition. Marshmallow will puff up and then flump, thin metal creates mini lighting (electricity arcs form between the metal and the microwave) and an unpierced egg will explode due to build up of steam.
Image: Andi Horvath
Source: Museum Victoria


5. Making a tasty gourmet meal in a microwave oven is still a challenge. The pictures in 1970s cookbooks always seem rather unappetising – perhaps the food stylist’s profession was in its infancy. When I asked around the office, most people told me they just use their microwaves to heat things. Perhaps if MasterChef runs a microwave cooking challenge it may inspire people to give it a go.

1970s microwave cookbook Are those chicken skewers with lemon pieces? It doesn’t seem to me to be a microwave thing but maybe that’s why they chose it for the cover: to surprise you. This 1970s microwave cookbook is on display in the House Secrets exhibition.
Image: Andi Horvath
Source: Museum Victoria

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.