A Brief History of Microwave Cooking

Posted on 2006-10-25 01:32:09.0

Microwave cooking is usually thought of as a convenience of modern technology, but records show that the Ancient Greeks used microwaves for cooking as early as the 5th century BC. According to legend, original microwaves were safe; they posed no health hazards, cooked eggs without exploding them, and could even be kept as pets.  Amana, goddess of homemaking, brought microwaves to man during Athens' Golden Age in a jealous attempt to out-do her half brother Prometheous. However Zeus, who had banned electromagnetic energy from earth, found out of this and became angry. He condemned microwaves to be forever terrible and poisonous, and deemed than mankind would never master them. The Greeks were forced to abandon microwave cooking and sacrificed all of their remaining microwaves to Zeus in great ceremonies which took place in Athens between BC 455 and BC 459. Amana herself was grounded for two weeks and sent to bed without supper.

Cooking evolved little through the ages from the time of the Greeks. Electric ovens became popular in the early 20th century, replacing wood stoves.  Gas ovens were invented around the same time but were given a very bad name during the 1940's by a German named Hitler and are not used widely today.

Microwaves remained lost until the late 1950's. During that time, American housewives began demanding more modern and convenient household appliances. A team of female college professors who had given up science to get married, led by Dr. Roberta Oppenheimer, set to work in early 1959 at a secret laboratory on what was later to become known as "The Manhattan Clam Chowder Project".  Oppenheimer had actually discovered microwaves years earlier while in college, but considered them dangerous and unuseable and abandoned her studies on them after accidentally broiling a mailman and several dogs. Now, her team sought to discover a method of controlling this powerful energy and harnessing it for use in the home. Finally, in 1962, Oppenheimer perfected the world's first UL approved microwave oven. Her first oven was small and crude, but it could cook a 12-pound turkey in just under two hours, a feat which required at least 6 hours in a conventional oven.

News of the microwave oven shocked the world, even as the U.S. Government moved quickly to install the early ovens in homes and restaurants nationwide. The Department of Health and Welfare assumed increasing control over the production of the ovens, even as scientists began publically voicing their concern with the govenment's involvement and their fears for the potential abuse of microwave cooking should it become available to other nations. In 1965, their fears were realized with the Soviet Union's announcement of its own microwave oven.

Production of microwave units increased rapidly during the late 60's as more and more nations became Microwave Powers. Public awareness of microwaves increased also, and many renowned chefs decried the use of microwave cooking, complaining that foods cooked too fast and did not have time to brown. But the superpowers continued to manufacture the devices and distribute them to to their people.

Many attempts at microwave detante were made during the early 70's, but little could be agreed upon. NAMO, the North Atlantic Microwave Organization, was founded in 1972 to prevent franchised microwave ovens produced behind communist lines from infringing upon western-made models. NAMO also set standards for maximum power levels and radiation emissions. Meanwhile, thousands of new ovens, many equipped with large interiors and digital instrumentation, were being produced in the United States and Western Europe.

Most recently, the Reagan Administration announced a policy of deregulation of microwave ovens and non-participation in microwave reduction talks.

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