Impact on American Society

The Microwave – Early Beginning and Rise in Popularity

Starting in the late 1960s, the microwave began to become popular with American consumers and have remained that way ever since. In August of 1967, Amana Refrigeration, an acquisition of Raytheon, developed its first microwave that was sold for under $500 and operated at 115 volts. [1] These microwaves were well received by the public and the microwave industry was never the same. However, before the microwave could reach its full potential, manufacturers had to solve the problem of perception – a majority of the public was concerned about the potentially harmful effects of radiation. In 1970, the federal government set radiation standards for microwave ovens, which would help to dissipate the public’s concerns about radiation.

By 1970, approximately 10% of American households contained a microwave and they were still widely used in restaurants, and trends continued to show that the microwave oven’s popularity was only going to continue to grow. [2] Throughout the early 1970s, various cookware companies were being to produce lines of dishes that were designed specifically for microwave use. [3] In just five years “microwave ovens were selling at over 1 million units annually, outselling gas ranges.” [4] One of the first popular microwaves was the Amana Radarange, which was a small size and easily fit into the “modern” kitchen.

[Fig. 1 – Eva, Bill. “Microwave Ovens for the Home – How They Work and What to Look for in Selecting One.” Popular Electronics, July 1976, 42. – This graph illustrates the rapid growth and overall popularity of the microwave oven]
One of the major reasons that microwave oven sales increased during the 1970s was due to the advertisement in various housekeeping and electronic magazines. These magazines usually covered the science behind microwaves, as well as trying to quell initial fears of radiation surrounding microwave ovens. By explaining the workings of the microwave ovens, the manufactures hoped that people would feel more content and at ease about purchasing one for their homes. [5]

[Fig. 2 – Ralph E. Grabowski, “How the Microwave Oven Became a Super Success,” Ralph E. Grabowski – Steering the Enterprise to Success, last modified 2016, accessed March 20,
htm. –  This advertisement shows the Amana Radarange, one of the most popular early microwaves and it also depicts a number of different dishes, which could be prepared using the Radarange.]



Due to the increase in popularity and use in American homes, the microwave oven began to change food preparations and cooking techniques. One advantage of the microwave oven was that it allowed for meals to be prepared without the hassle – no longer were multiple pots and pans, or stovetop or oven were required. Full gourmet meals were now able to be cooked using just the microwave. Suddenly anyone, regardless of talent or skill, could prepare meals from scratch. Due to this new way of preparing meals, a new market emerged, which targeted consumers who wanted to exclusively use the microwave. For example, food and cookbook writer Barbara Kafka published two cookbooks, which focused on cooking gourmet meals while using only the microwave. [6] Julie Sahni, a chef and food writer, published in 1990 a cookbook which focused solely on Indian cuisine and how it could be prepared using the microwave. [7] The emergence of cookbooks focused solely on the using the microwave illustrates the impact it had on the home cook in American society. While cookbooks using solely microwaves were a fad in American culture, it represents the popularity of the microwave and illustrates just how much microwaves had entered into the American psyche. However, in her interview, Lisa Salita, who was a teenager when her family bought their first microwaved in 1979, remarked that while these types of cookbooks were popular, most of the food wasn’t very good. The food, especially meats cooked or deserts baked in the microwaved had a weird consistency. [8]



Ease and Convenience

One of the most important reasons behind the microwave oven’s popularity was the convenience factor that it bought to kitchens. Microwaves were beneficial for cooks of any type – from experienced cooks to those who were culinary challenged. For the experienced cooks, microwaves allowed for free time. Before the microwave oven, preheating food was not something that commonly done. This was because there was no good way to reheat the food. If one did decide to reheat food, then it came out the cost of having to wash a multitude of dishes. There were the dishes the cooled food was stored in, then the separate skillet or pan needed to reheat the food, and finally the dishes the food was served in. This meant that lots of time was needed to prepare and clean up after a meal. [9] This meant that practically every night, the cook would have to prepare a new meal every evening. However, when the microwave oven was introduced, leftovers provided for easy meals. Suddenly, microwave ovens allowed for leftovers, meaning that someone didn’t have to cook everyday. Now, meals could stay in the refrigerators remain for a few days, and be easily heated up. [10] This meant that everyday, people had access to good, quality, home cooked meals everyday that did not require lots of preparation and cleaning.

And if one was not a food home cook, then microwave oven still allowed for the opportunity to have good meals. Microwave ovens allowed for frozen meals to be thawed and ready to be eaten in a matter of minutes. Before the microwave there were frozen meals, however, since they were required to be heated in the oven, they did not save much time. But now, the quality of the foods not only increased, but was now was able to be eaten much quicker.




[1] Andrew F. Smith, Eating History – 30 Points in the Making of American Cuisine (New York: Columbia Press, 2009): 207.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Eva, Bill. “Microwave Ovens for the Home – How They Work and What to Look for in Selecting One.” Popular Electronics, July 1976, 39 – 42.

[6] Mary Drake McFeely, Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? American Women and the Kitchen in the Twentieth Century (159)

[7] Julie Sahni, Moghul Microwave: Cooking Indian Food the Modern Way (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1990)

[8] Lisa Salita, interviewed by Helen Salita, March 18, 2017, transcript Helen Salita, Richmond, Virginia.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.