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Microwave ovens are a staple in American kitchens and a lifeline for college students, but that was not always the case. Percy Spencer developed and patented the first microwave oven after noticing that a magnetron was emitting heat-generating microwaves during an experiment with radar in 1945.

The first models were huge—about 6 feet in height and weighing more than 750 pounds. After World War II, when wartime technologies were adapted for domestic purposes, the ovens became smaller and more suitable for homes.

Smithsonian Snapshot: Microwave oven, 1976