Who Invented Microwaves? is an excellent, well illustrated source.  Includes a copy of the original microwave oven patent.
 
Check out Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things by Charles Panati (1987, Harper and Row, pages 125-126) for more information on the invention of the microwave oven.

Additional information on the microwave oven can be found in the book The 20th Century by David Wallechinsky (1995 by Little, Brown, and Co., page 580).

Several pages of The Straight Dope by Cecil Adams (1986, Ballantine Books, pages 213-215) is devoted to the topic of babies in the microwave oven.

Articles on the unfortunate death of the baby in the microwave can be found in the following newspaper articles:

  • "Woman who put baby in microwave oven is charged with murder" can be found in the September 28, 1999 issue of The Virginian Pilot.
  • "Mother of Baby Found Dead in Oven May Have Had a Seizure" - The Washington Post (September 25, 1999, page B1)
  • "Mother Charged In Baby's Oven Death" - The Washington Post (September 28, 1999, page B1).
  • "Mother in Oven Death to Be Tested" - The Washington Post (October 6, 1999, page B2).






Babies Cooked in the Microwave?

A revolution has occurred. A revolution that you didn't even notice happening. 

Where was this revolution? 

In cooking, of course. The microwave oven is the first new method of cooking since man invented fire. 

Surprisingly, no one ever set out to discover the microwave oven. It was an accidental discovery. 

Here's the scoop: 

Way back in 1940, two scientists, Sir John Randall and Dr. H. A. Boot, invented a device called a magnetron to produce microwaves in their lab at England's Birmingham University. 

What did they want the magnetron for? 

Real simple - to cook the Nazi's goose. 

The magnetron is a key component to the radar (radio detecting and ranging) which bounced microwaves off the enemy's war machines to detect their presence. 

Cooking food was not exactly part of their vision. 

After the war, in 1946, a Raytheon Company engineer named Dr. Percy Spencer was about to make history. 

Doc Spencer was performing tests on a magnetron tube when he got strong cravings for the chocolate bar that was in his pocket. 

He reached into his pocket only to be surprised by a nice gooey mess. (Some claim that the chocolate was on his desk and not in his pocket.)  Doc Spencer was well aware of the fact that the magnetron produced heat, but he did not sense any. He suspected that the magnetron had melted the chocolate, not his body heat.

(Now, I don't know about you, but if I noticed that all the food products brought near this thing were being quickly cooked, I would assume that the machine was doing the same to me.  I really doubt that a new type of oven would be my first thought...)

He needed to test his theory that the magnetron was cooking his food. 

He had to use... (drum roll please)... Science! 

He sent out for a bag of popcorn and placed it in front of the magnetron tube. 

Guess what? The popcorn popped all over the floor. 

The next morning he tried cooking up some eggs. In a very famous incident, one of his fellow colleagues was very curious and happened to get a bit too close - the egg blew up in his face (Is this where we get the expression egg on his face?). 

Raytheon set out to make the first microwave oven. Since the magnetrons were used to make radars, they gave it the name Radar Range. 

Raytheon succeeded in building the oven, but it was very large. After all, the 1940's were not known for miniaturization of electronics. 

These Radar Ranges did not sell well. Most were sold to restaurants or to the military. 

In 1952, Tappan introduced the first home model at the very low price of just $1295! 

Surprisingly, they started to sell and the rest is microwave history. 

Now we are stuck eating all those delicious microwave dinners. Yummy! (Yuk!) 

So, what about nuking babies (or cats) in microwaves? Stories of this kind have been floating around the rumor mill for many years. I recall hearing a story about a woman killing her baby in the microwave oven way back in the late 1970's. 

So, is it true? 

When I first sat down to write this story in 1994, I could not track down any evidence that this had ever really occurred.  Even the great Cecil Adams in his book The Straight Dope said that he could not find any evidence that a baby had been nuked in a microwave (he did find evidence of a child being burned).

Sadly, I now have to update my story.  It seems that a nineteen year old woman from Lanexa, Virginia was charged with allegedly murdering her one month old baby in a microwave oven on September 23, 1999. 

The apparent claim is that Elizabeth Renee Otte had an epileptic seizure, became confused as a result, and placed the baby in the oven.  Epileptic experts and prosecutors are not buying this claim, however.  It should be interesting to see where this story goes.

Cats being nuked is a totally different story. There are enough whackos walking the streets out there that we can be certain that someone must have tried it at some point in time. I have had enough students in my classes over the years that have done similar stunts, so I am positive someone has tried it somewhere. 

And we like to think that we are so much more sophisticated than our ancestors...

Useless?  Useful?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

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