Project Proposal

The topic of this research project will be the microwave, how it was invented, and how it changed food preparation. The microwave plays an essential role in everyday life. It helped change the concept of preparing and cooking food, and it helped shape the types of appliances found in modern kitchens. We chose this topic to not only heighten our appreciation for this modern convenience we take for granted, but to learn more about how the product has evolved into the phenomenon people cannot live without today.

The blog component of the project will consist of a home page and then four pages off of it. The homepage will consist of mostly videos and pictures of the different microwave styles over the years, as well as provide an overview of the topics covered on the other pages. The first page will discuss Percy Spencer, who invented the microwave somewhat by accident. Spencer worked at a paper factory plant and one day on the job he crossed through a radar set. He noticed a candy from his pocket had melted when he passed through. [1]  It was in this moment his fascination with this discovery took off as he begun to test other foods, like the popcorn kernel, and conduct experiments on the matter. After having great amounts of success in his research, he applied for the patent on the invention in 1945. [2] The first commercial microwave, 6 feet tall and 750 pounds, came out in 1947 and was made available for restaurants and businesses. [3] After continued research and editing of the product, the first home microwave came out in 1967. [4] The microwave could now fit on a kitchen counter, which made it more desirable for a broader market of consumers, and suddenly the microwave went from being a piece of technology that was impractical for most consumers, to being highly sought after.

The next page will cover the antecedents and as well as the possible alternative. The antecedents page will begin with the history of the original oven which was built in France in 1490. [5]  One of the next developments in the history of the microwave was the strew stove, which was a wood-burning stove that better contained smoke fumes created by the oven.  [6] Then, the iron stove was invented in the early 1800’s. [7] Next came the  patent for the electric oven in 1896, and the final the electric oven in 1920.[8]  At the time of the microwaves creation, there were a number of different alternatives that could have been chosen. One possible alternative is the toaster oven, a derivative of the toaster. One interesting note is that while the toaster oven was a possible alternative, it did not fade into the background. It can still be found in many kitchens today. The page will also include a timeline of all the events, not only leading up to the microwave but after the microwave as well, so that the information is easy to follow chronologically for the viewer.

The third page will be the basic science behind a microwave’s functions, both then and now. Microwaves operate by the creation of heat energy from friction between waves that penetrate the food within the microwave. Before, conventional ovens would have an electric current that flows through the metallic elements to create heat and cook the food inside. There is typically a thermostat in the oven to measure temperature and adjust the current to maintain it. Unlike a conventional oven, microwave ovens do not heat the entire space inside the appliance. They use electromagnetic energy and generate electromagnetic waves that heat up the food in the appliance. Because the waves heat up just the food inside, microwave ovens are much more electricity efficient than the traditional oven. [9] The purpose here is not to get into the fine details of the science behind the microwave, but instead to give the viewer the ability to have a basic understanding of the mechanics behind it. This will help their understanding as to why the microwave changed cooking.  

The final page will be the impact that the microwave had on American society. One interesting impact the microwave had on society was that it helped to build and cement the popcorn industry. Popcorn sales started commercially the year before Spencer gained the patent for the microwave. [10] In the original patent submitted by Spencer, popcorn was drawn inside the microwave. [11] This relationship between popcorn and the microwave is still seen today, as there are numerous microwave popcorn companies. Another impact the microwave had on American society was the change in cooking times. Before the microwave oven, it could a laborious task to prepare a meal when thinking about the time needed to prepare the meal as well as the having actually ability to cook it. But with the microwave came convenience. It allowed for full meals to be made quickly, and far less cooking ability was required. This led to a rise in the market for cookbooks which focused solely on the microwaves. The impact and staying power that the microwave had on American culture is clear – when initially invented, it had limited use in restaurants, however, today approximately ninety-five percent of homes in the United States contain a microwave. [12]

The documentary component of the project will cover the topics mentioned above, but with a humorous undertone. The intention of the documentary is to be light hearted and fun, in order to keep the audience engaged and interested. The documentary will be created using a video camera and iMovie. The video will highlight the importance of the microwave for students as well as others who use the microwave. For the documentary,  students on campus will be recorded talking about their experiences with the technology, both growing up and how they are utilized in college.

        As college students, we are always on the go from one thing to the next. Attempting to fit meals into a schedule can seem impossible sometimes. Because of the microwave, students have the ability to cook meals quickly and efficiently. It is primarily because of this convenience and ease that the microwave oven has become such a staple in kitchens across the United States.

Endnotes:

[1] “Percy Spencer,” Famous Inventors, accessed February 19, 2017, www.famousinventors.org/percy-spencer.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Food for Thought: the History of the Oven,” hhgregg, last modified December 12, 2013, accessed February 20, 2017, blogs.hhgregg.com/history-of-the-oven.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Microwave Ovens vs. Commercial Ovens: a Comparison of Technology and Efficiency,” Bilji Bacao!, last modified April 22, 2016, accessed February 20, 2016, www.biljibachao.com/appliances/microwave-oven-vs-commercial-oven-a-comparison-of-technology-and-efficiency.html.

[10] Joseph Gustaitis, “The Explosive History of Popcorn,” American History 36, no. 4 (2001): 32 – 37.

[11] Spencer, Percy. Method of treating foodstuffs. U.S. Patent 2495429 filed October 8, 1945 issued January 24 1950.

[12] Ken Cooper, “Microlessons: Toward a History of Information-Age Cuisine,” Technology and Culture 56, no. 3 (2015): 580.

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