Sunday, October 2, 2022

History of the Microwave Part 2 : Percy Spencer

Blogger: Amber Lemus

Percy Spencer
Last month we learned about the history of the microwave, however the man who is considered the inventor of the appliance deserves his own post, because his story is epic. So we're back today to learn about American inventor Percy Spencer.

Percy was born on July 19, 1894 in Howland, Maine, but his life would not be an easy one. Both of his parents died by the time he was eighteen months old, and he went to live with his aunt and uncle. When he was seven, his uncle also died, leaving Percy and his aunt on their own. Circumstances were so hard, that by age twelve, Percy dropped out of school to get a job so that he could help support his aunt. He got a job as a spindle boy at a weaving mill.

Even in these rough, early years, Percy was intelligent and ambitious. He took an interest in electricity when he heard that a local paper mill would soon start using it, and started learning all he could about the concepts. He hadn't received any formal training in electrical engineering, but he applied to the paper mill anyway and was one of the three persons hired to install electricity in the mill.

When he turned eighteen, Percy saw the Navy as an opportunity to further his education, so he joined as a radio operator. His interest in radio communications had been ignited when the news of the Titanic's sinking reached the shores of Maine. He was fascinated by the thought of the wireless communications that had been sent from a dying ship to plead for help. While he was in the Navy, Percy taught himself a number of scientific subjects. In his own words, "I just got hold of a lot of textbooks and taught myself while I was standing watch at night." In this way, he learned not only radio technology, but also calculus, physics, trigonometry and more.

Percy Spencer with early Microwave equipment
Public Domain - Newspaper Photo

Distinguished Public
Service Award
Public Domain

After the First World War, Percy joined a company known then as the American Appliance Company in Cambridge, Maine. This company would later be known as the Raytheon Company. During the Second World War, the British contracted with Raytheon to mass produce combat radar equipment. This was one of their most recent inventions. Spencer played a key role in the development of this technology by developing a system of mass production of the magnetron. He increased the production to 2,600 per day. In this way, Raytheon had a "marked effect on every major sea engagement of the war" according to Navy officials. Although he was no longer enlisted in the military, Percy was awarded the Distinguished Public Service Award from the U.S. Navy because of his work on this project. That award is the highest honor the Navy can bestow to a civilian.

As we discussed last month, it was during this time that Percy was working with the magnetron, that he also invented the microwave oven. This is what he is most well-known for, but it is hardly the greatest of his accomplishments. Vannevar Bush, a friend and colleague, said of Percy, "(He) earned the respect of every physicist in the country, not only for his ingenuity, but for what he has learned about physics by absorbing it through his skin."

While Percy was only given a $2.00 gratuity from Raytheon for the patent on the microwave, as an employee of the company, he did not receive any royalties on his inventions. However, he did become the Vice President and senior board member of the company, so I don't think he completely lost out on his career choice.

Percy Spencer's list of accomplishments is long. He received over 300 patents during his career. One of the Raytheon labs was named after him, and when that closed, another building was named in his honor. He was a member of the Institute of Radio Engineers, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and he was granted an honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Massachusetts, despite the fact that he had no formal education. He was also a husband, father of three children, friend to many.

Percy died on September 8, 1970 at the age of 76. Here's a link to a NYT article at the time of his death.

Two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for historical fiction, Amber Lemus inspires hearts through enthralling tales She has a passion for travel, history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".

She lives near the Ozarks in her "casita" with her prince charming. Between enjoying life as a boy mom, and spinning stories out of soap bubbles, Amber loves to connect with readers and hang out on Goodreads with other bookish peoples.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting today! I am amazed by this AND the fact that Percy lived in Maine. He achieved so much in his life. Thanks again to the bloggers who teach us all these things!!