Thursday, July 28, 2011

Finding Mr. Goodbar

 It was only when Percy Spencer put his hand in the pocket of his white lab coat that he got a nasty surprise. He’d been tinkering away with a magnetron he’d been building for a super new radar and lost track of time, as one does. Luckily, he’d stopped off to buy a Mr. Goodbar (his favorite) on his way to work, and couldn’t wait to eat it.

But alas! All he found was a puddle of melted chocolate goo mixed in with the foil and wrapper. He pulled his hand away sharply and thought (as all the very best inventors do) “well gosh darn, how’d that happen?” — or in modern parlance, “WTF?” — because after all, he’d left school and apprenticed himself in a mill at the age of 12.

But he was still hungry, so he commanded an assistant to fetch corn kernels instead (as one does), spread them out on the table, and watched. Sure enough, within a minute, there was popcorn everywhere, just everywhere. Percy said to himself “well whaddya know?” — or in modern parlance, “Holy Crap!”  and decided to repeat the experiment with an egg.

Let’s just say it was an explosive confirmation of his suspicion that the microwaves from his machine were responsible. Let’s just say there wasn’t egg on his face when he approached his bosses with the news. It was 1945, and Raytheon, the company in question, wanted to transition their wartime manufacture of radars into something less … impractical for home use … so they gave Percy the go-ahead to develop his invention and before they knew it, out popped US patent 2,495,429 — or in modern parlance, “Cha-Ching!”

While the wife of Raytheon’s CEO used the original “Radarange” oven (six feet tall and weighing 600 lbs) in her kitchen for 30 years, everyone else eventually climbed on board the microwave bandwagon with increasingly smaller (and significantly less powerful) models; today, an estimated 90% of American homes have one.

You and I might think microwave ovens are easy to use; you just hit the timer and Start. It dings when it’s done. But back when housewives got giddy at the thought of zapping rather than cooking food, they were very complicated machines that required manuals to operate. Many of these books and brochures included a completely unnecessary section explaining the science behind the magic, as well as strict instructions on what sort of pots to use and what NOT to microwave.

Which brings us to the introduction to JCPenney’s Microwave Cookbook. It’s strange, but among the hundreds of recipes there isn’t one for hyperbole, because that’s what it serves up best. Or in modern parlance, "LOL!"

Microwave Cookbook, JCPenney
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