Percy Spencer: From Chocolate Bar to Microwave Oven

13 August 2015 | A powerful excuse for chocolate lovers! Then an inspiring story about innovation myths.

There are a lot of myths about innovation. And, not a single one involves chocolate.

On the contrary, perhaps one of the most satisfying suggestions about being innovative is to have a chocolate bar in your pocket. There’s concrete evidence that doing so had a huge impact on harnessing new technology into a product that had global impact. And we can thank Percy Spencer for the sweet lesson.

Percy Spencer (19 July 1894 - 8 September 1970). Microwave Oven Inventor
Percy Spencer (19 July 1894 – 8 September 1970). Microwave Oven Inventor

Percy was born in 1894 and had a difficult beginning as a child. When he was a baby, his father died, so his mother sent him to live with his aunt and uncle. Then when Percy was just seven, his uncle died. At the age of 12, Percy quit grammar school and began working 12-hour days in a local mill to support his aunt and himself. And that was the end of his formal education.

When he turned 18, Percy joined the Navy and while on night watch duty, he began reading whatever books he could find on the topic of wireless communication. He kept reading, and taught himself calculus, chemistry, physics and metallurgy.

After leaving the Navy, he went to work for Raytheon, and it was there in 1939 that Percy and his chocolate bar made a discovery that changed the world.

While he was working on a device called a magnetron, which is something that generates short-wave radio waves, Percy noticed the chocolate bar in his pocket melted whenever he stood in front of the equipment. He had no idea what caused this, but soon discovered that it was due to microwaves. So he began modifying the equipment and after several alterations – he built the first microwave oven.

So, chocolate is not only high in antioxidants and a cancer-fighting food, but it’s also fundamental to technology commercialization. I like it even more.

It certainly worked for Percy, who went on to receive 300 patents and receive numerous awards.  And all of this was accomplished without a formal education, but with a curious mind, a desire to self-educate and a chocolate bar.

So, take a bite out of your chocolate bar and consider these myths about innovation.

By 10 Myths of Innovation, LinkedIn Pulse.

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