Percy Spencer is a self-taught engineer who did not finish even primary school. He self-taught himself math, science, and electrical engineering while standing guard on ships in the Navy.
Before, during, and after WWII, Spencer worked on top-secret magnetrons, the high-powered electrical devices at the heart of a RADAR system. One day he noticed that a candy bar in his back pocket melted. He theorized rays from the magnetron somehow cooked it.
Experimenting, he put popcorn next to the microwave emitter and found that it popped. Repeating, the first purposeful use of microwave energy for cooking was to cook popcorn.
Eventually, Raytheon commercialized his invention as the microwave oven. They branded it the “RadaRange.” However, the ovens were enormous, expensive, and required an enormous amount of electricity. Ovens took about 20 minutes to heat up though then operated at high power and could cook a potato in 30-seconds.
Notwithstanding the failure of Raytheon to commercialize their oven, others shrunk it in size, power, and cost. Eventually, the microwave oven became a staple in kitchens worldwide.
“The microwave oven eventually became known as Raytheon’s largest commercial failure, and the reason why was that like so many other failures, they saw the cool technology but they didn’t understand the market.”Percy Spencer