FOOD: Transforming the American Table

Cook Today . . . Tomorrow's Way

Microwave ovens were introduced in 1947, using radar technology developed during World War II. Noting that microwave generators created heat, a Raytheon engineer adapted the technology for cooking food; his first experiment was to pop kernels of corn. Manufacturers expected that consumers would use the new ovens to cook entire meals from scratch in a fraction of the time required for conventional cooking. By 2000, 90 percent of U.S. households had a microwave.

Microwave oven, 1955

Gift of Frigidaire Company

Developed by Tappan in conjunction with Raytheon, the RL-1 was the first microwave oven designed for home use. A 1955 model failed to sell well due to its steep price of $1,295, as well as customer confusion about how to use it.

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Microwave Oven Cookbook, 1976

Microwave Oven Cookbook, 1976

The image on the cover of the cookbook accompanying the JCPenney microwave suggests the appliance would cook sumptuous, traditional meals.

Tappan informational flier, 1955 (front)

Tappan informational flier, 1955 (front)

Tappan informational flier, 1955 (back)

Tappan informational flier, 1955 (back)

Microwave oven, 1976

Gift of Jeff and Jan Thompson

Oven manufactured in Japan by Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. for the JCPenney department store chain.

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Designed for the Microwave

Food molecules such as water, fat, salt, and protein interacted differently with microwaves than with conventional cooking methods, affecting the consistency and flavor of food. Food companies reformulated and repackaged foods to make them suitable for microwave heating. Other manufacturers created microwave-safe cookware.

Ad, 1984

Ad, 1984

Courtesy of Archives Center, National Museum of American History

In 1976, Pillsbury introduced a line of microwaveable foods.  Others followed suit, and in 1987 alone, food companies released more than 760 new microwaveable products.

Cookbook, 1989

Cookbook, 1989

Gift of Rayna Green

Food writer Barbara Kafka was skeptical of microwave cooking, but became a convert in the late 1980s. Her cookbooks encouraged people to use their microwaves for cooking, not just reheating.

Patent drawing, around 1991

Patent drawing, around 1991

Disposable “crisping sleeves,” packaged with a variety of frozen foods, were designed for use in the microwave to mimic the results of conventional cooking.

Microwave egg cooker

Gift of Julia Child

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Micro-Go-Round

Gift of Nordic Ware

The Micro-Go-Round automatic food rotator promised consumers “no more hot & cold spots.” In response to its popularity, manufacturers began adding automatic turning tables to later models of home microwaves.

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Microwave bacon/meat rack

Gift of Nordic Ware

In 1978, Nordic Ware developed a new plastic molding technology to create cookware that worked in both conventional and microwave ovens.

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