Jan. 19 is National Popcorn Day! Pull out your dental floss because it’s time to celebrate one of world’s oldest snack foods.
Popcorn dates back thousands of years. It is believed that the first use of wild and early cultivated corn was popping. Popcorn likely arrived in the American Southwest over 2500 years ago, but was not found growing east of the Mississippi until the early 1800s. Today the Midwest is famous for its “Corn Belt,” because the introduction of the steel plow during the 19th century made the soil suitable to grow corn.
Popping popcorn could sometimes be hazardous with the use of oil and heat. One of the ancient ways to pop corn was by heating sand in a fire and stirring kernels of popcorn in when the sand became fully heated. It wasn’t until the second half of the nineteenth century that an efficient method for popping corn was developed. These newly invented “poppers” were made from boxes of tight wire gauze attached to a long handle; they were meant to be held over an open flame.
In 1885, Charles Cretors designed and created the first of a long line of popcorn machines in Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Cretors owned a sweet shop and had purchase a peanut roasting machine that didn’t work too well. He soon altered the machine and began selling his products in and around the area. Eight years later, he attended the Chicago Columbian Exposition with his new machine and history was born.
During the Depression, popcorn at 5 or 10 cents a bag was one of the few luxuries families could afford. While other businesses failed, the popcorn business thrived. A major reason for this increase was the introduction of popcorn into movie theatres and its low cost for both patron and owner. The “talking picture” solidified the presence of movie theaters in the U.S. in the late 1920’s.
Popcorn only got more popular during World War II, because wartime sugar shortages led to limited supply of candy. Post-war applications of Raytheon technology spurred Percy Spencer to develop the microwave oven in 1946. Popcorn was key to many of Percy Spencer’s experiments, and eventually microwave popcorn was introduced to a grateful public in the early 1980s. Of course this brought an increase of burnt popcorn in offices all across the country.
While it is unknown who actually invented National Popcorn Day, there is no denying the snack’s popularity. Americans consume 13 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually or 42 quarts per man, woman and child. It is one of the most wholesome and economical foods available.
What is your favorite snack? How often do you have popcorn?