My childhood was remarkably low-tech for an American kid growing up in the 1980s. I didn’t have cable TV or a computer until I went to college (1997), and didn’t play video games outside of an arcade until we got a NES in 1990. So I always thought microwave ovens came into existence in 1988, when my family got one. In fact, they’d already been in commercial production for more than 40 years.
Stacy Conradt at Mental Floss gives an appropriately accelerated history of what she calls “the Not-so-microwave“:
The first oven intended for commercial sale in 1947 was almost six feet tall, tipped the scale at 750 pounds and cost $5,000 in 1947 dollars. The second version, produced in 1954, was better but still needed work: it gobbled electricity and cost $2,000– $3,000, at a time when the average cost of a new car was about $1,700… Regular households didn’t care much about microwaves until 1967, when a relatively low-energy model costing just $500 came out.
You ever wonder how microwave ovens work? It’s just slightly more complicated than this, but basically microwaves (which are like radio waves, but with a frequency closer to the infrared spectrum) pass over food, creating a weak alternating electromagnetic field. Water molecules — which are basically in everything we eat — also have a weak electromagnetic charge, and they all realign themselves to match the polarity of the microwave radiation — kind of like passing a household magnet over a pile of iron filings. When the water molecules move, the temperature raises (because molecular motion is all temperature is). Get those molecules moving fast enough and long enough, and baby, you’ve got a stew going.*
*I know, it’s the second time I’ve used this Arrested Development reference in as many weeks. It just feels right.
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Fuente: Gadget Lab