Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Klaatu and the amazing Radarange that wouldn’t die

A case of demystifying the ubiquitous microwave oven



After a poignant farewell ritual, including a phone call to the Iowa customer service centre listed in our 1973 owner’s manual to see if it could be repaired, we’ve finally gotten rid of our of old Amana Radarange microwave oven. It looked like something Klaatu might have used on board his spacecraft to heat up snacks in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

First off, it was pretty amazing we even got rid of the thing. For despite its cracked door lining and dodgy control panel it still basically worked. Being the practical Canadians that we are, we are not wont to dispose of things that still function, believing this kind of karma will return to us when we’re facing end-of-life morbidity.

Besides, we’d gotten attached to its high chrome finish and cool retro vibe. Go ahead, check out eBay – Amana Radaranges are hot memorabilia, when you can find them.

In the 1970s, winning an Amana Radarange on a TV game show was today’s equivalent of winning, say, a round of Survivor – reaching some kind of pinnacle of low-culture achievement which everyone gets excited about without understanding why.

At least in the case of the Radarange, the Amana name had some collateral. I mean, the service centre number listed for 1973 still worked in 2005. Now that’s quality.

So I wonder if we did the right thing by letting it go. Given our Radarange was circa 1973 – yes, the owners who renovated our home were organized enough to keep all their original receipts and owner’s manuals in labelled filing folders – meant it was one of the first countertop Radaranges.

Granted, microwave ovens, albeit ones pretty different to the models we’re used to, were around before that. Raytheon Corporation, which later took over Amana, introduced both domestic and commercial microwave ovens in 1947.

An employee at Raytheon won the company contest to name the new oven by coming up with "Radarange". He was obviously playing on the fact that the magnetron vacuum tube, which produces low-density microwave radiation and is central to microwave ovens, was developed in World War II to bolster Britain’s radar capabilities against incoming Nazi planes.

Jumping the cosmic gap between stopping the Germans and heating food was totally accidental. Dr. Percy Spencer, a scientist working at Raytheon who invented the magnetron, was testing one when he realized that the candy bar in his pocket had melted. Next, he tried putting popcorn kernels near the tube when it was activated, then watched the first version of microwave popcorn fly around the lab.

Early domestic microwave ovens were huge, like fridges. It wasn’t until Amana came up with the first domestic countertop microwave ovens in 1967 that they started to resemble the models we all use today.