The microwave oven: from accident to household essential.

The bi-product of US military research, the first microwave oven for the home was launched in America in 1955. However, uptake in Europe was slow and it was only after Electrolux turned to American pioneers for their expertise that it became an essential feature in the modern Electrolux kitchen.

A fortunate melting

The history of the microwave oven began completely by accident in 1945. American military engineer Percy Spencer, working in his lab testing magnetrons at defense contractor Raytheon, noticed that a candy bar in his pocket had melted. Spencer realized that food could perhaps be cooked using radar waves and designed a box that isolated the electromagnetic waves and heated the food that was put in there. The American appliance company Tappan Group, later acquired by Electrolux in 1979, licensed the patent from Raytheon and introduced the first microwave for the home in 1955.

Mr. Plastic creates the microwave oven of the future

The futuristic Husqvarna Electronic 2000 designed by Carl Arne Breger

In Sweden, Husqvarna, which was to be acquired by Electrolux in 1977, had manufactured microwaves since 1959 but it was a rather small market. In 1969 they then began a cooperation with Electrolux and launched the rather striking, futuristic Husqvarna ‘Electronic 2000’ designed by Carl Arne Breger. Nicknamed “Mr Plastic”, Breger’s innovative creations had a major impact on consumer goods in post-war Sweden, and his microwave was no exception. Rather than a square box, the Electronic 2000 featured a shiny steel cupola that covered the food.

The turning point in Europe

In the early 1970s, the microwave oven market was still small in Europe but there was a growing conviction that it would soon hit Sweden and Europe in the same way it had already done in the US, and even more so in Japan.

In 1974 Electrolux combined Husqvarna’s technology with its own electronic oven and released the 1974 Microlux CF 780, which had plates and ovens with microwaves. Still the Microlux never became a big seller – the European market simply didn’t seem to be ready yet.

Presentation of the Microlux series microwave oven from Electrolux.

The turning point came when in 1979 Electrolux bought the Tappan Group and starting using its resources to re-launch the microwave in Europe. Tappan were pioneers in the US microwave market – selling about 3 million microwave ovens per year across the country. The difference was that Americans were embracing the microwave – in 1980 more microwave ovens were being sold than conventional stoves and ovens. In the autumn of 1980, an introduction campaign was rolled out, and by 1981 the new microwave oven had landed safely on European soil. The launch did not go without a problem however, as Europeans proved to have many specific requirements for their microwave ovens and it was sometimes difficult to get Tappan and all its US subcontractors to meet all the requirements.

An appliance that appeals to the whole family

In the Electrolux built-in kitchen, it became common from the mid-1980s to build both an ordinary oven and a microwave oven on top of each other and by the late 1980s the microwave oven finally became a common sight in European kitchens. It was a perfect complement to the new freezers full of ready-made food which were becoming popular in suburbia. All the family would benefit from this new device. Mom and Dad could prepare food rapidly and even the kids could do some cooking.

Since its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, the microwave has gone on to become an essential and versatile feature in the modern Electrolux kitchen. Today it comes as both a fitted oven or a tabletop device and its functionality can include steaming and grilling options. The oven of tomorrow has become a vital tool in the kitchen of today.