Percy Lebaron Spencer was an American engineer and inventor and is the most famous as the inventor of the microwave oven but there is more interesting stories to be told about him.
He was born on 19 July 1894 in Howland, Maine and his hard childhood started almost immediately. When he was only 18 months old he lost his father and his mother left him after that to his aunt and uncle. His uncle died, when Spencer was only 7 years old and shortly after that he had to leave grammar school so he could find a job and earn money to support him and his aunt. At the age of 12, he had a job at a spool mill. He was at this job until he was 16 when he heard that a local paper mill will start using electricity which intrigued him. Unable to find anyone that would tough him about electricity (Howland, Maine was a very remote community), he tough himself all that he could and when he applied for a job at the paper mill he was one of three people who were hired to install electricity in the plant. Wireless communications began to interest him when he was 18 (he read about wireless operators aboard the Titanic when it sank) and decided to join the U.S. Navy There he made himself an expert on radio technology as well as trigonometry, calculus, chemistry, physics, and metallurgy.
He worked so hard that by 1939 he became one of the world’s leading experts in radar tube design. He was then already an employee of Raytheon, a contractor for the United States Department of Defense, where he held the position of the chief of the power tube division. He was the won to secure a government contract for Raytheon to develop and produce combat radar equipment for M.I.T.’s Radiation Laboratory which was a very important project during the Second World War, second only to the Manhattan Project - development of Atomic Bomb. When Raytheon started producing magnetrons, an important radar part that produced microwaves, they were making them at the rate of 17 per day. Spencer found a way to make them faster and increase magnetron production to 2,600 per day. He was awarded for that with the Distinguished Public Service Award by the U.S. Navy. In 1945, while working on the active radar set, he noticed that a chocolate that he had in his pocket started to melt. While he wasn’t the first to notice this behavior he was curious enough to examine it more thoroughly. He experimented with popcorns (which were the first food to be heated with microwaves - deliberately) and with an egg (which exploded). After that he attached a high density electromagnetic field generator to an enclosed metal box which made a sort of proto-microwave oven in which he conducted later experiments with different types of food. Raytheon patented microwave oven on October 8, 1945 and began development and production. For his invention of microwave oven, Spencer received no royalties. He was paid a one-time $2 gratuity from Raytheon, which was the same token payment the company made to all inventors on its payroll. That doesn’t mean that his intellect went unrewarded. He became Senior Vice President and a Senior Member of the Board of Directors at Raytheon. He had 300 patents at his name during his career there and a building was named in his honor. Ha also received many other awards and achievements. Spencer also had a wife, Louise, had three children: John, James, and George.