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June 3, 2024 41 mins

A lot of the stories that are told about popcorn in history – particularly in North America – are incorrect. Popcorn has been around for a very long time, though its rise to popularity as a snack has accelerated in recent years.

Research:

  • “Ancient Popcorn Discovered in Peru.” Smithsonian. Jan, 20, 2012. https://www.si.edu/newsdesk/releases/ancient-popcorn-discovered-peru
  • com Editors “Orville Redenbacher.” Biography.com. April 2, 2014. https://www.biography.com/business-leaders/orville-redenbacher
  • Butler, Stephanie. “ A History of Popcorn.” History.com. Dec. 6, 2013. https://www.history.com/news/a-history-of-popcorn
  • Delgado, Michelle. “The History of Popcorn: How One Grain Became a Staple Snack.” Serious Eats. May 7, 2023. https://www.seriouseats.com/popcorn-history-movie-theaters
  • Dell’Amore, Christine. “Ancient Popcorn Found—Made 2,000 Years Earlier Than Thought in Peru.” National Geographic. Jan. 21, 2012. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/article/120119-national-popcorn-day-corn-peru-archaeology-food-science
  • Geiling, Natasha. “Why do we eat popcorn at the movies?” Smithsonian. October 3, 2013. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/why-do-we-eat-popcorn-at-the-movies-475063/
  • Goodspeed, T. H. “Plant Hunters in the Andes.” University of California Press. 1961. https://archive.org/details/planthuntersinan0000good
  • Grobman, Alexander, et al. “Preceramic maize from Paredones and Huaca Prieta, Peru.” January 17, 2011. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
    https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1120270109
  • Meyers, F.J. “IMPROVEMENT IN CORN-POPPERS.” Patent No. 171,032. Dec. 14, 1875. https://patents.google.com/patent/US171032A/en?q=(pop-corn)&q=(corn-popping)&sort=old
  • “MICROWAVE KEY TO POPCORN WAR.” New York Times. June 22, 1987. https://www.nytimes.com/1987/06/22/business/microwave-key-to-popcorn-war.html
  • Mola, Roger A. “Then and Now: Pass the Popcorn.” Smithsonian. March 2008. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/air-space-magazine/then-amp-now-pass-the-popcorn-13027292/
  • “PopCorn: Ingrained in American’s Cultural History.” USDA National Agricultural Library. https://www.nal.usda.gov/exhibits/speccoll/exhibits/show/popcorn/early-history
  • The Popcorn Board. “All About Popcorn.” https://www.popcorn.org/All-About-Popcorn/History-of-Popcorn
  • “Popcorn Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Product (RTE, Microwave), By Distribution Channel (B2B, B2C), By Region (Asia Pacific, North America, Europe, MEA), And Segment Forecasts, 2022 – 2030.” Grandview Research. https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/popcorn-market-report
  • Smith, Andrew F. “Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America.” University of South Carolina Press. 1999.
  • “Sugar: The First and Last Food Rationed on the World War II Home Front.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/sugar-the-first-and-last-food-rationed-on-the-world-war-ii-home-front.htm

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Transcript

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class, A production
of iHeartRadio. Hello, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Holly
Frye and I'm Tracy V. Wilson. Tracy, did you know
that I'm kind of obsessed with popcorn? No? I did
not know this. I love popcorn. I love it too,

(00:22):
like I love love it. We talked about it behind
the scenes. Yeah, let's do I you know, late lately,
on and off the last couple of years, I've been
looking at whether or not I should buy a glazing
machine to do like, oh fancy one theme park style
popcorn fun. I always back off of it and in
a moment of like, you don't need that. Part of

(00:44):
it is because there's only one person in my house
that eats popcorn. But the bottom line is that this
and a couple other things have made me think about
like popcorn. And we'll talk about it in the course
of the episode. But a lot of like what we
know about popcorn words, early phases, or what gets repeated,
a lot is flat out false, right, so, at least

(01:07):
in modern culture. So I thought it would be fun
to pick apart popcorn through the ages, because it goes
back very far but was not necessarily as prevalent in
place as we have been told it was. And then
we'll talk about how it has become a huge industry. Yeah.
I had not thought about the economics of why it
is such a profit industry, but now I have, so

(01:31):
we'll talk about all of that today. Yeah. So the
use of the word corn in historical contexts, at least
some of the time, it can be a little deceiving
because corn is a word that has historically been used
more generally to describe all kinds of grain crops. So
today corn, I want to say the big lump with knobs,

(01:56):
but that's from so long ago on the Internet, it's
already a very dated reference, just the thing you know
with ears. But corn in translation of the Bible, as
having been in Egypt, that was probably barley. Similarly, in Britain,
the word corn has been used to refer to crops
that could include both wheat and oats. So if you're

(02:19):
reading really old historical documents and there's a reference to corn,
it might not mean the relative of grass specifically that
we call corn today. Yes, because corn is grass. Corn
is grass. As for another reference that cuts a little deep,
but it's fine. I feel like many of our listeners

(02:41):
will get it. The corn that we think of today
using that word is a native plant species to the
Americas that, as Tracy said, related to grass and popping
corn is a specific type of maize, which is different
from the corn you would eat, of course, as corn
on the cob or in corn dishes where you eat
the intact popping corn has a husk that is four

(03:03):
times thicker than those other varieties, and popcorn predates the
other corn types, although they are all the same species,
so you could have flour corn, podcorn, sweetcorn, dent corn,
and flint corn. They're all very close genetic matches to popcorn,
but slightly different that were developed over time as crops

(03:24):
for their edibility, and according to Andrew Smith in his
nineteen ninety nine book Popped Culture quote, by the time
Europeans encountered the New World in the late fifteenth century,
maze was already a domesticated plant that did not grow
in the wild. Without human cultivation, maze did not survive yees. So,
just to recap maze one of the many many plants

(03:50):
native to the Americas cultivated by indigenous people now enjoyed
world worldwide. Yes, the science of how corn pops really
pretty simple. That thick wall of the kernel encases a
little pocket of starch and moisture, and when the corn
is heated up, that moisture inside causes the starch to liquefy.

(04:12):
Just as boiling water expands, so does that liquefied starch,
and it gets that builds up enough pressure to break
that outer shell, rapidly expanding and re solidifying into the
fluffy white popcorn that we're familiar with today. When popcorn
is grown, every step of the process is designed to

(04:33):
ensure that you get that fluffy, popped finish. It is
cured on the stalk and then dried until it reaches
fourteen percent moisture for a long time. The oldest example
of popcorn ever found was estimated to be four thousand
years old. And these are small ears that were found
in the bat cave of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico

(04:55):
in the late nineteen forties and early nineteen fifties. And
we say these are small ears, we're talking about two
inches long as the largest of the collected specimens. The
smallest was reported as smaller than a penny, even today,
if you grow popcorn, those ears are smaller than the
other kinds of corn we've talked about, but not quite
this tiny, So in any case, very dissimilar from the

(05:19):
ears of corn that you might see today. But then
in twenty ten, far older samples of popcorn were found
in Peru, and these were dated to six thy seven
hundred years ago, and they're really interesting because in that
case the popcorn appears to have been popped while still
on the cob, not from separated kernels. Delores Piperno, who

(05:40):
at the time was Curator of New World Archaeology at
the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, d C.
Co authored a paper on these samples that was published
in twenty twelve. It was titled pre Ceramic Maize from
Paradonis and Juacapria to Peru. One in interesting conclusion in

(06:01):
this paper was the statement quote, given the scarcity and
discontinuous stratigraphic presence of maize macro fossils and microfossils at
Paradonis and Juaca Prieta and at other pre ceramic sites
in the region, we infer that this crop, both its
popcorn and flowery forms, was not a primary food staple

(06:23):
in the local diet before about forty five hundred to
forty two hundred CALBP. So, just in case folks aren't
familiar with that terminology, BP is before the present and
calb P is calibrated before the present. Yeah, that's a
type of year dating that you'll see used in a

(06:45):
lot of archaeological papers. But although popcorn wasn't, according to
that paper, a particularly major part of the agriculture of Peru,
it is now believed that popcorn was being actively cultivated
by people of the Americas in other places as far
back as nine thousand years ago. Paperno gave a statement
in the press when this whole article was published and

(07:07):
became very popular for a minute, that it was cultivated
from a wild grass known as tiacinde. People that couldn't
grow it likely traded for it. This earlier version of
popcorn was also likely closer to what's called parched corn today,
so in some cases it wasn't popping exactly, but it
was being used in a way that it was dry heated,

(07:28):
so it would puff up slightly and become like a
crunchy thing. The Aztec culture is often invoked in popcorn
discussion and for good reason. Popcorn was used as food
and also as part of ceremonial practices. When conquistador Hernan
Cortes first came in contact with the Aztecs, which as
we know, would ultimately lead to the culture's destruction, he

(07:52):
became the first European to see popcorn and noted its
use for eating, as well as being strung on garlands
that were used as jewelry and headdresses and as decoration.
The automatopoetic word used by the Aztecs to represent the
sound of the corn popping was totapoka. Popcorn was also

(08:12):
closely associated with the Aztec ring god Toscato. A Franciscan
friar named Bernardino de Sahagun, who traveled to the Americas
in the fifteen twenties to convert the indigenous people there,
wrote of popcorn quote, they scattered parched corn called momahito,
a kind of corn which bursts when parched and discloses
its contents and makes itself look like a very white flower.

(08:35):
They said these were hailstones given to the god of water.
Now that's an interesting quote because some translations of Sahagun's
words in this passage omit that whole reference to the
god of water, so it's not sure if a translator
added it later. Some translations described the corn grains instead
as simply being like scattered dice, and there's no mention
of a deity. Sahagoon made the effort to learn and

(08:58):
understand the Nahua language that he encountered, and to work
with members of the Aztec culture and gathering information for
his book General History of the Things of New Spain.
Jesuit missionary Bernabe Cobo, who visited Peru in the early
sixteen hundreds, also wrote of the practice of eating popcorn there. Quote,
they toast a certain kind of corn until it bursts.

(09:21):
That corn, which was used in confection, was called pisancaia.
The Spanish naturalist Felipe de Azara described a grain he
encountered in the Americas in the late seventeen hundreds this way.
Quote it is boiled in fat or oil, the grains
burst without becoming detached, and their results of superb bouquet,
fit to adorn a lady's hair at night without anyone

(09:43):
knowing what it was. I have often eaten these burst
grains and found them very good. So that's obviously an
example of them being popped on the cob. One of
the reasons that popcorn became a staple in so many
American cultures over time is its longevity. Unpopped kernels or
dried cobs of them keep for a very very long time,

(10:05):
so they can travel and store really easily. As evidence
of that longevity, botanist Thomas Harper good Speed, founder of
the Botanical Gardens at University of California, was given a
gift by a colleague from Chile in the late nineteen thirties.
It was pre Inca popcorn, and good Speed's curiosity about
them eventually got the better of him, and he tried

(10:27):
popping them. In nineteen forty one, he published a book
titled Plant Hunters in the Andes, and he shared the results,
writing quote, one evening at home in Berkeley, it occurred
to me to try an experiment with my kernels of
pre inca popcorn. I placed a few on a pie
tin and heated them on the electric stove. Much to
my surprise, that corn, which had been gathered nearly a

(10:49):
thousand years ago, popped as readily as did last year's
crop that had come in a box from the shelves
of the neighborhood cash and carry store. I'm curious how
he knew that it was pre inca popcorn, right, he's
taking that that person's word for it is yeah, okay, okay,
that's I had questions. And of course these travelers from

(11:13):
Europe brought maize back home with them. Spain and Italy
were the first places it was introduced, and then it
made its way to Turkey. But for a long time
it was used to feed animals and not humans. There
were very few instances of anyone in Europe trying to
pop it. When it got to Asia, also through Spanish colonists,
it was adopted more readily as a food for people,

(11:36):
including in its popped form. Yeah. I saw one mention
of like this one place in Romania that there may
be evidence that it had been popped at one point.
And of course, obviously people eventually did adopt maize and
maize products into their stuff. That's why we have things
like polenta, but not really into it initially. While you

(11:58):
have probably heard that popcorn was served at the first
Thanksgiving in Plymouth Colony as belooney, there is no evidence
to support that claim. There's a lot about the first
thanksgiving story that there are, and specifically the idea of
indigenous people giving colonists popcorn comes up in so much

(12:20):
literature that book I mentioned just a moment ago. It
goes through like this long list from like everyone from
like Jane Adams writing about it to I think Thau
at one point, like all of these people that perpetuated
this myth and made it part of that like kind
of fuzzy, more lovable story of how those encounters worked.

(12:43):
And it's like there's there's literally nothing to support, but
there was some mention of popcorn from colonists in the
mid sixteen hundreds. John Winthrop Junior made a report to
the Royal Society of London in sixteen sixty two that
included popping corn in his description of the ways that

(13:05):
Native Americans used maize, noting that they seemed to turn
inside out and become flower like, but he also described
the resulting puffs not being eaten as they were the
way we think of popcorn, but being ground after that
or beaten into a meal. One hundred years later, Ben
Franklin described a similar process, with the popping being done

(13:25):
in a large iron pot with sand and then the
sand being sifted off before the pounding into the meal step.
But popcorn among the indigenous people of the East coast
of North America doesn't really appear to have been a
very big thing. It was more work to grow and
harder to use than other forms of maize, so it
kind of seems like it really didn't get a lot

(13:46):
of favor. Coming up, we'll talk about reasons. It's tricky
to figure out exactly how popcorn got a start in
the United States as a nation different from the Americas
as a region. We'll take a quick sponsor break before
we get to that. Because popcorn is inexpensive and as

(14:15):
we've said, long lasting, it became somewhat of a novelty
to a lot of folks in the early United States
once it had formed as a country, although there isn't
actually a mention of actual popcorn in writing until the
eighteen thirties, when it was mentioned in a periodical called Cultivator,
which was geared towards farmers. According to Andrew Smith in

(14:35):
pop Culture, it's possible that in terms of European descendant
inhabitants of the US and the eighteen hundreds, the practice
of popping corn might have even come from Africa. As
maze made its way across Europe in the fifteen hundreds,
it also moved south into Africa, but this is purely
a theory. The way maze spread, which was in some
cases tied to the slave trade, makes it actually pretty

(14:59):
hard to know who actually had it and who brought
the concept of popcorn into the culture of the US.
And of course there was popcorn in South America well
before any of this, so it may have just moved north.
But there's no real chain of evidence to clearly identify
how white men started popping popcorn rather than parching and

(15:19):
grinding it. The ways people popped popcorn in its early
adoption in the United States could vary a lot. Some
sound kind of arduous. There was a way similar to
how it would be done today by a lot of
folks using fat or oil in a kettle. Another method
was to toss kernels of popping corn into the hot

(15:41):
ashes from a fire and then all that give that
kind of a stir to get the kernels to pop pop.
That meant that you had to get the popped kernels
out from the ash to eat it. And I'm just
not seeing how you don't wind up with a mouthful
of ash. Yeah, that's a hard pass for me. Another

(16:03):
approach was a wire box method, where kernels could be
placed in a wire container that was held over a fire,
though it may have taken a while to catch on.
Once popcorn was introduced to the US in its fluffy form,
it kind of became a fad. Just a decade after
that reference and cultivator, the word popcorn appeared in Bartlett's

(16:24):
Dictionary of Americanism, so over a ten year period it
had gotten really really popular. Soon holidays celebrated in the
US started to have popcorn associated with them, and kind
of all holidays, right, like we sometimes think of popcorn
garlands for Christmas. I don't think a lot of people
do that, but some still do, or like popcorn balls
at Halloween. But it also became part of Easter traditions,

(16:47):
just popcorn, not in its candied forms Halloween traditions, and
this eventually led to the development of the popcorn ball
that I just mentioned. So a mass of popcorn held
together by a sugarcoating not only eaten as a treat,
but they were also used as decor. In some cases,
you could even buy molds and gadgets that would help
shape candy coated popcorn into decorative shapes, so you could

(17:10):
make a little ornament by this. By the eighteen sixties,
popcorn recipes started appearing in cookbooks. They often included ways
to make sweet treats or desserts with it. It wasn't
so much savory stuff going on at that point. When
the steel plow was invented in the mid eighteen hundreds,
that made growing popcorn even easier, and the crop became

(17:32):
even more popular. Became easier to cut the stalks which
were really starty. This is what led to the development
of the corn belts. It was during the latter half
of the eighteen hundreds that popcorn was also adopted by
healthy living advocates. Dietitian Ella Kellogg, the wife of John
Harvey Kellogg, used popcorn as a breakfast cereal, eating it

(17:55):
with milk. She thought popcorn should be incorporated as a
dish at just about any meal. At that point, popcorn
was readily available in just about every grocery, and it
was also routinely sold as a treat at sporting events
and circuses. In eighteen seventy five, Frederick J. Myers of Govington, Kentucky,

(18:15):
filed a patent for a corn popper that enabled the
user to keep from burning their hand the handle of
the device stayed cool to the touch. His improvement in
corn poppers didn't involve any kind of revolutionary materials or
thermodynamic tricks. You could just detach the handle while the
corn was over the heat source and then reattach it
to pull the poppedcorn out. Ten years after Meyer's patent,

(18:39):
Charles Creeters enters the story, and he's a significant figure
in popcorn's US history. Creators owned a candy store, and
as he sought to expand his offerings, he ordered a
peanut roaster for his shop so he could sell fresh
roasted nuts alongside his candy. He didn't actually like the roaster, though,
and started taking it apart to see if he could

(19:00):
improve on it somehow. In the tinkering, Creators expanded his
vision to invent a new roaster instead of just trying
to fix the one he purchased and didn't like. Around
the same time, he realized he could design a machine
that would pop popcorn as well as roast peanuts, and
that he could use it to roast coffee beans. As well.

(19:21):
He ended up building roasters in a variety of sizes
to fit different needs. Creators used steam to run his machinery,
which gave consistent power and in the case of the popcorn,
that meant it would heat evenly and produce consistent batches
of white, fluffy popcorn. He popped that in a mixture
of lard and clarified butter. The steam was then used

(19:43):
to keep the popped popcorn warm. He was able to
add seasonings before popping, and that would stick to the
kernels as they exploded. Soon he was selling roasting machines
to other entrepreneurs instead of selling candy. In eighteen ninety three,
Creators exhibited at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Popular

(20:03):
Mechanics reported on the popcorn machine on wheels that he
had on display, which was marketed to grocery stores, initially
as something that they could move in or out of
the building as proprietors wished. According to that write up
in Popular Mechanics quote, this machine was designed with the
idea of moving it about to any location where the
operator would be likely to do a good business. The apparatus,

(20:25):
which is light and strong and weighing, but four hundred
or five hundred pounds can be drawn readily by a
boy or by a small pony to any picnic ground, fair,
political rally, etc. And to many other places where a
good business could be done for a day or two.
After kind of a slow start at the expo where
he couldn't get people interested, Creators just started making bags

(20:47):
of popcorn to give away, and then that freebee plus
the smell of popcorn popping, made the crowd show up.
He eventually started selling the popcorn, and he made a
nice sum over the course of the exposition, and the
success of his popcorn sales also inspired the sales of
his mobile popcorn machine, which he called the earn More,

(21:07):
and this launched an entirely new field of mobile food vending.
While people have sold food on foot for centuries, We've
talked about it so many times, this was new in
that the food could be prepared on the spot wherever
the vendor went. Other manufacturers of nut roasting machines hustled
to get in on this new popcorn market by making

(21:27):
poppers similar to creets. The creater's company, by the way,
still exists today, and it still manufactures concession equipment of
all kinds. As Creaters was working on his popping machine,
commercially produced popcorn became available at retail. Up until the
eighteen eighties, people who made popcorn were usually growing their

(21:48):
own or getting it in places like farmer's markets, but
in the eighteen eighties the Albert Dickinson Company started offering
prepackaged popcorn with the branding names of Big Buster and
Little Bust. Similarly, other people besides Creators were working to
innovate in the corn popping arena. One of Creeter's employees,

(22:09):
C F. Dunbar, left the company to start his own
popcorn machine business, and he invented a machine that would
pop the popcorn dry without any oil and then pass
it through an automated butter dispenser. The first patent for
a machine that would coat popcorn with a sugar glaze
to keep each popped kernel fresh was filed by a
man named James Voods. This machine kept those popkernels separate

(22:32):
from one another, so each one could dry with the
coating without clumping up into a ball. Frederick and Lewis
Rookheim of Germany developed a hand held popper that gave
them the capability to flavor each small batch however they wished.
The Rookheims are also responsible for introducing an enduring snack brand,
which is Crackerjack. Crackerjack, in case anybody in our listening

(22:56):
audience has not had it, combines popcorn and peanuts. The
molasses coating Crackerjack was such a huge hit that copycat
recipes started showing up in cookbooks not long after its introduction.
Once again, because of the low cost, popcorn has endured
in popularity through various economic downturns. During the Great Depression,

(23:18):
popcorn became one of the few treats that families could
still afford. It was kind of an austerity luxury, and
it also meant that companies that sold popcorn fared better
during the Great Depression than other industries as popcorn sales
continued to rise. The depression also led to one of
the most common associations we have with popcorn, and that's

(23:38):
being a movie theater snack. This was a cost effective
way for theater owners to offer some kind of snack
that overhead was very low. But not all theaters were
on board with the popcorn boom. Initially, some of them
feared rightfully as Anybody who has ever left a theater
at the end of a movie has seen that it

(23:59):
would make messes. Sometimes people intentionally make bigger messes with it.
There had also just been a push within the industry
to create a luxury experience that popcorn and other snacks
couldn't really match with. But it was so popular already
as a low cost snack that popcorn sellers started to
pop up adjacent to theaters, having moved there from sporting

(24:21):
events and carnivals, so patrons could buy a bag on
their way into the theater. Eventually, theater owners recognized that
they were losing a potential revenue stream and started offering
popcorn in their establishments. In many theaters, this began as
a rental arrangement with the vendors who had once been outside,

(24:42):
but overtime theaters introduced their own snack counters and handled
their own concessions. And of course most won't let you
bring a whole bag of popcorn in with you unless
you're really sly, and then they're still take you to
do it. But you know, I'm not going to comment
on that anyway. Another world event that further solidified popcorns
hold on the US the snack market was World War II.

(25:02):
Sugar was ration in World War Two. It was one
of the first things to be ration The supply lines
that the continental US got sugar through were the Philippines, Hawaii,
Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, all of which
were theaters of war, so those supply lines were essentially cut. Additionally,
what sugar there was was often sent overseas for troops.

(25:24):
The amount of sugar allowed through rationing was half of
what most households used on average. Because of the sugar shortage,
savory popcorn once again had a surge of popularity as
a snack that was readily available and could be eaten
without sugar. Reportedly, popcorn consumption in the US tripled in
the early nineteen forties. Coming up, we'll talk about how

(25:44):
the invention of television caused popcorn's popularity to dip for
a little bit. But first we will hear from some
sponsors that keep the show going. Okay, we will finally

(26:05):
get to an important historical moment that actually hurt popcorn
sales at least for a little while, and that's the
advent of television. As people adopted the new technology at home,
they made big use of it as an entertainment investment,
and as a consequence, movie theaters saw a drop in
ticket sales and thus popcorn sales also declined at this point.

(26:28):
In this moment, popcorn was usually, though not always, a
treat that people would eat when they went out. People
absolutely did continue to make popcorn at home, but that
was no longer the primary way that most popcorn was consumed.
But that shift to home entertainment brought about by the
rise of television shifted things once again for popcorn two,

(26:49):
because then after a while, they missed that popcorn, and
it became more and more common again for families to
make popcorn themselves at home to eat while watching TV.
Another icon of popcorn's popularity in the US was Orville Reddenbacker.
Redenbacker was born in Brazil, Indiana, on July sixteenth, nineteen

(27:09):
oh seven. His parents were corn farmers, and Orville grow
up to work as a Farm Bureau extension agent. After
graduating from Purdue University with a degree in agronomy, he
also opened his own very successful fertilizer company. But popcorn
had always been his favorite treat, and he had dabbled

(27:29):
for years with the idea of creating a perfect popping corn.
By their early nineteen seventies, Reddenbacher was ready to turn
that hobby into a business. He had developed a strain
of corn that he felt was absolutely perfect for popping,
and he partnered with a man named Charlie Bowman to
launch a company to sell it. And the popcorn was

(27:51):
originally named as a portmanteau of the two men's names.
It was called red bow but by the time they
started selling it it was Orville Reddenbacker Popcorn. To name
change that he said was based on advice from an
advertising firm. There's a very funny David Letterman clip of
him explaining this thing if you ever want to go
hunting for it online. It was a very small company

(28:12):
to start. Orville initially was selling the popcorn out of
his car, but in nineteen seventy two there was a
huge ad campaign. Orville starred in the commercials right alongside
his popcorn, and soon he became really well recognized. Although
he was so associated with the commercials that a lot
of people thought he was an actor portraying the character

(28:36):
of Orvile Redbacker, not like actually the man that the
product was named for. Regardless of whether consumers understood the
importance of the company's commercial spokesman, Orville Reddenbacker, popcorn became
a huge seller. And then there was, of course, the
microwave of it. So the microwave, which we talked about before,

(28:58):
was the brainchild of Percy, who worked for Raytheon Manufacturing Corporation,
which producer reported eighty percent of the magnetrons used by
the Allied forces in World War II. In a meeting
where the executives of Raytheon were trying to come up
with ways to keep the company's momentum going in peacetime,
Spencer suggested that magnetrons might be used to cook food.

(29:21):
Spencer was really well respected. His work had been what
enabled Raytheon to produce magnetrons at the scale needed to
support the war effort, so they took his idea to
heart and started experimenting with food. We've talked before about
Spencer and that great story about how he realized that
microwaves could heat food when a candy bar in his
pocket melted while he was working in the lab one day.

(29:44):
Building on that food lore, popcorn didn't just benefit from
the transition of microwave technology into home use. It was
also an important part of developing it. Percy Spencer used
popcorn to test what would happen to it when it
was exposed to the magne tron. After this whole melting
candy bar incident, he said to have ended up with
popped kernels flying all over the lab. Although the development

(30:08):
of the microwave began in the nineteen forties, it didn't
really become widely appealing to home consumers for several decades.
But once that new technology was integrated into a lot
of people's household lives, manufacturers sought ways to capitalize on it,
and they started developing popcorn specifically designed for microwave use,

(30:28):
and microwave popcorn is one of those oddities that was
embraced by consumers really quickly. Microwave popcorn got a boost
from the huge surge in fitness enthusiasm in the nineteen eighties.
It's a pretty healthy treat. It has a low calorie
and sodium count, and it offers a lot of fiber.
So just as more and more households were getting microwaves,

(30:49):
a large portion of those households were interested in popcorn.
Whether it was just because it's an easy tasty treat
or because they saw it as healthier than other options.
I will say that sodium number can really vary depending well.
Popcorn on its own right, no, very little sodium, very little.
But if it's covered in salty butter, if with the

(31:11):
national salt, that changes. In a nineteen eighty seven article
in The New York Times titled microwave key to popcorn War,
it was noted that quote five years ago, microwave popcorn
did not exist. In nineteen eighty three, the first full
year that microwave popcorn was available nationally, it generated retail

(31:32):
sales of fifty three million dollars according to Packaged Facts,
a New York based consumer research concern. Last year, consumers
popped and estimated two hundred and fifty million dollars worth
of the stuff according to the Popcorn Institute, a Chicago
based trade group. Yeah, that's huge growth over a five

(31:52):
year period. That article also noted that Orville Reddenbacher, who
at that point was the undisputed king of home use
popcorn brand for more than a decade, was suddenly in
competition with companies like Pillsbury, General Mills, and Nabisco, which
had all launched their own microwave popcorn products. The article
then quoted then GM of General Mills Donald Newtson as

(32:14):
saying of their microwave popcorn pop secret quote, this is
easily the hottest microwave product General Mills has ever introduced.
The article also mentions cost and that even though microwave
popcorn costs more than twice as much as regular popcorn,
consumers seemed to be happy to pay that for the convenience.
But we should note that though Reddenbacher had competition, and

(32:37):
that was the whole crux of this article, that brand,
which was owned by the Beatrice Company in nineteen eighty seven,
had been selling microwave popcorn since nineteen eighty three, and
it was still the leading brand on the market when
Orbal Reddenbacher died in nineteen ninety five, his popcorn accounted
for forty five percent of the market. Citing market experts,

(32:57):
that article also predicted that a few brands would survive
and thrive, but all other microwave popcorn makers would fall away.
This was way off base given the situation at most
grocery stores these days, where there are dozens of options
for microwave popcorn and many other products. Also ay off

(33:20):
base was a quote from Deborah A. Koom who was
manager of popcorn popper manufacturer West Bend Company. According to
her quote, microwave popcorn is a fad. It will last
until people read labels and realize what chemicals microwave manufacturers
put into their popcorn. Microwave popcorn did lose some market

(33:42):
share to pre popped popcorn in the early twenty teens,
but it's still around. It's not a fad. Popcorn is,
in fact, such an enduring treat that it enabled some
movie theaters to stay afloat even when no movies were
showing during the early days of the pandemic. Twenty twenty
three rate up at Sirius Eats, the co owner of

(34:03):
a theater in Parkridge, Illinois named Dave Loomos talked about
his company's use of popcorn to maintain business. He said, quote,
we had our doors closed and no income coming in.
We decided to do curb side popcorn pickup to see
how it would go, and we've been doing that for
the past couple of weeks and it seems like it's
well received. That's very smart, in my opinion. I think

(34:24):
so too. Popcorn once again had a huge surge when
the COVID nineteen pandemic began because people wanted to replicate
movie night at home. Grocery Store popcorn sales ROSA reported
thirty percent. In twenty twenty one, the global popcorn market
was estimated to be worth five point two billion dollars.

(34:46):
It's expected to continue on a growth trajectory into twenty thirty.
One of the largest drivers today is the ready to
eat popcorn market and particularly gourmet flavors of pre popped popcorn. Oh, popcorn,
I love you, mm hmmm ah. I will talk in

(35:06):
behind the scenes on Friday about popcorn. Yeah, Ada, super will.
I'm excited popcorn. I have a listener mail from our listener, Trenna.
tRNA writes, Hi, Tracy and Holly. First, of course, I
am a longtime listener and fan, but first time emailer.
I love the podcast and often listen when I'm driving
for a number of hours, so I get both episodes

(35:28):
and the behind the scenes all in one swoop. I'm
finally writing because it seems that all of the stars
aligned to compel me to say how thankful I am
for your podcast. As a history major, I loved hearing
the behind the scenes, so to speak, regarding the famous
people of our past. So, just after listening to your
episode on Vinnie Reem, I went to Washington, D C.
For a friend's birthday. I really wanted to see the statue,

(35:51):
but unfortunately all of the tours of the Capitol Building
were sold out. Instead, I spent many an hour touring
all of the monuments and tributes include Washington Memorial, Lincoln Memorial,
World War One and two memorials, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Memorial,
African American History Museum, which is an amazing museum if
you've never been. That's my input. Harriet Tubman Museum in Cambridge,

(36:12):
in many more places. My last tour that I crammed
in that day I was leaving, but I could not
leave without seeing Arlington. I took a two hour walking
tour that included JFK Memorial and his Brothers and Justice Ginsburg,
Thurgood Marshall, and many more. I was disappointed to not
see any statue, but our tour guide pointed out a
grave site and asked anyone if they knew who they were.

(36:35):
It was Jimmy Doolittle and I was like horsehack dating
myself here because of course I listened to the episode.
I took a picture of the tomb to include in
this email, just to send you thank you so much
for what you do. I love listening to the funny
parts of the story and how you both crack up
at the sillier side of things. So to that end,
my poor old kiddy died last year after a very
long life, so I'm including a picture of another funny

(36:57):
episode from my past background. My husband and I had
two dogs who were BFFs forever. When the older one,
Mac died, my poor little miniature Docsin was heartbroken, following
me everywhere. So I had the bright idea of adopting
another docs in to keep him company. I found a
rescue on a website and thought she was adorable. We
went out to meet her with Winston to see if

(37:18):
they were compatible. They appeared to get along well, so
I said we will take her, at which point the
rescue center told me about her mother. Apparently the two
were living in a car with a bunch of other
dogs and they were all rescued and no one had
come forward for the mother, who she had been with
her whole life. Yep, you guessed it. I'm a sucker,
so I said, give me the mom too. I love

(37:39):
you for this. Well two weeks later, I'm sitting on
our sofa and the younger one goes crazy, running all
over and up and down the stairs, pulling down the
afghans and blankets, and I didn't know what to think about.
Thirty minutes later, I hear a muling noise. I got
up to look, and yes, you guessed it, there was
a puppy on the couch. I called to my husband calmly,
I'm sure, honey, I have a problem. After back and

(38:02):
forth about yes, really, there is a puppy on our couch,
he dove in and helped deliver the rest of the pups.
Of course, it was a Sunday, so no vets were open.
In the end, we navigated the delivery of three puppies
within two days. One of my best friends came over
and said how cute the puppies were. Then she looked
at the mom and said, I'll have one of hers.
I said she's not pregnant, and my friends said, yes,

(38:22):
she is. Sure enough. My husband took mom to the
vet the next day, and four puppies were in our future.
So long story, short, we went from one dog to
ten dogs in about a month. Here's a picture of
my miniature docs in with the puppies. Who doesn't love
a snuggle. Looking forward to seeing you in Indianapolis, Trena. One,
I love you for taking care of all of these bibbis. Two,

(38:44):
I love you for adopting a mom. That's always my
thing on Mother's Day. Adopt the mom. Animals they don't
get taken in the puppies and kittens always do and
they often sit in shelters, So hooray for you. Thank
you for that. And also I have been at a
puppy delivery and it's a lot of work, and like
my hat is off to you, so thank you so
much for accidentally segueing us to being able to talk

(39:04):
about our live show in Indiana. Yeah're going to be
at the Indiana Historical Society on July nineteenth, so if
you would like to see stuff you missed in history
Class live, it is a seven thirty to eight thirty
PM show at the Eugene and Maryland Glick Indiana History Center.
It is thirty dollars if you're a member. It's twenty
dollars if you're only going to the show. There's another

(39:25):
option for a slightly more expensive ticket which also includes
a meet and greet, so we would love to see
you there. If you would like to register for this
show and come and see us in Indianapolis, we would
love to see you. You can do that at www
dot indianahistory dot org slash events and you'll see it
right there, and we will be there, and Trent and
I will hug you for taking care of all of

(39:47):
those dogs, because thank you for doing it. They're so cute.
This is also the wonderful mystery and surprise sometimes of
adopting rescue animals from shelters. Different shelters have different levels
of care they're able to give before adoption. Sometimes you
get a surprise. One of my previous cats, who is
no longer with me, was the mom and they had

(40:11):
found homes for all the babies, and then Villain l
came to live with me for the next decade ish.
More than that, she was a cute little shy thing. Yeah, yeah,
so thank you. If you want to write to us
about your adventures in touring historical sites or with animals

(40:31):
and surprise puppies, which I'm just gazing at this puppy picture,
It's like a dopamine hit, It's so good, or anything
else you want to talk about. You can write to
us at History Podcast at iHeartRadio dot com. You can
also find us on social media as missed in History
And if you would like to subscribe to the podcast
and you haven't, you can do that on the iHeartRadio

(40:51):
app or wherever you listen to your favorite shows. Stuffy
and History Class is a production of iHeartRadio. For more
podcasts from iHeartRadio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or
wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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Tracy V. Wilson

Tracy V. Wilson

Holly Frey

Holly Frey

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