Microwave Ovens – A Story of Humble Beginnings

Percy Spencer’s father died when he was 18 months old and he was given to an aunt and uncle to raise. When his uncle died when Percy was seven, he had to leave school to support himself and his aunt. He had a fascination with electricity and got a job helping electrify a paper mill.

When he was 18, he joined the Navy. He used this opportunity to teach himself the equivalent of a degree in electrical engineering. After his service in the Navy, Percy joined Raytheon, a major supplier of technology to the Navy. By the age of 45, Percy was renowned as an expert in radar tube technology.

Percy was instrumental in the design and production of radar technology in support of winning World War II. He received the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Navy for his efforts.

Percy continued his work with Raytheon after the war. One day as he crossed in front of an active radar set, the candy bar he had in his pocket melted. Percy was intrigued and decided to experiment further. One of those experiments involved making popcorn from corn kernels. Those experiments led to the first microwave.

At first, microwaves were impractical for home use because of their size and cost. It took 20 years for the microwave ovens we use today to become affordable. While Percy was granted a patent for the microwave, Raytheon owned the rights. He did receive a $2.00 bonus for his efforts.

Percy finalized his career with 300 patents. He was also a Senior Vice President of Raytheon and a number of the Board of Directors. That’s quite an accomplishment for someone who never finished grade school.

While Percy received recognition within Raytheon and in professional societies, he is a hidden hero in our broader society. Think about what his story could mean to those who have a difficult childhood. How do we instill a desire for achievement in those who have every reason for resenting their lot in life? Our understanding of what drives the desire for achievement should be a national priority.

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“Believe in yourself. You are braver than you think, more talented than you know, and capable of more than you imagine.” – Anonymous

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