The Microwave’s Amish Connection

Did you have a hulking Amana Radarange or a state-of-the-art Amana refrigerator lurking in your kitchen in the '70s or '80s? Yes? What kind of pinko are you?

You see, the Amana appliance company has its roots in the Amana Colonies, a set of villages established in Iowa by an 18th-century religious sect. They were Christian communists. Many people compared them to the Amish. And they made refrigerators.

This seeming contradiction began in 1932 when an ambitious Amanist named George C. Foerstner founded the Electrical Equipment Company (later Amana Refrigeration). The Amanists were game to try capitalism after the Great Depression had put a hurtin' on their communal bank accounts. Maybe this bright young man's newfangled refrigeration company was the ticket.

It was. By the end of World War II, Amana's biggest seller, a $500 home freezer, was being sold coast-to-coast and had a national advertising campaign. That made it an attractive target to defense contractor Raytheon, looking for a way to get its newish invention, the Radarange (a precursor to the modern microwave), into the consumer marketplace. Though Raytheon had originally envisioned the Radarange in industrial kitchens, it worked with Amana to bring down both the size and the price of the machines, making them more practical for home kitchens.

Amana decided that the best way to advertise its new microwave oven was by demonstrations. They hired a group of 42 groomed-to-the-teeth women who were admonished to dress and act like ladies while they showed off their wares to housewives at department and grocery stores. They were also instructed on what to cook in the Radaranges: Maple bacon was good, as it had an intoxicating aroma that drew in looky-loos. Cakes were "iffy" (and decades later, still are when microwaved), and demonstrators were always supposed to bring a potato to stun onlookers with the speed at which the Radarange could "bake" it.

These days, Amana is owned by Whirlpool. The Amana Colonies are a tourist attraction with scented candle shops. But the microwave oven lives on.

Image source: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540 image#LC-USF34-082284-E