In honor of October being National Popcorn Poppin’ Month, The List takes a look at this tasty treat eaten at movie theaters, sporting events and at home.
- 10. Oldies, but goodies — The oldest ears of popcorn were found in a New Mexico cave in 1948 and 1950. Ranging in size from a penny to 2 inches, the popcorn ears were estimated to be about 4,000 years old.
- 9. Snap, crackle, pop — In colonial times, Americans ate popcorn for breakfast. They mixed it with milk, sugar and cream.
- 8. How it works — Each kernel has water inside it. When the kernel is heated, the water turns to steam. Because of the kernel’s hard coating, the steam has difficulty escaping. The steam eventually escapes, causing the kernel to explode, or “pop.”
- 7. Making waves — After the end of World War II, Percy Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon, noticed that a magnetron, which generated microwave radio signals, had melted a chocolate bar in his pocket. He held a bag of unpopped popcorn next to the magnetron, and it began to pop. This discovery helped him build a microwave oven. After he did so, Spencer received a patent for microwave popcorn. Today, most microwaves have a “popcorn” button on them.
- 6. Take me out to the ballgame — Cracker Jack, a snack of caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts, first appeared at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Cracker Jack became immortalized thanks to the song “Take me out to the ballgame” featuring the line “Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack.”
- 5. Lights, camera, action — Popcorn has been linked to movies ever since the first nickelodeons opened at the beginning of the 20th century. However, popcorn was usually sold outside the theater, and people were discouraged from bringing it inside. It wasn’t until the Great Depression and the advent of motion pictures with sound, that movie theaters began to sell popcorn inside the theater, and it soon became a lucrative industry.
- 4. Red, white and blue — During World War II, the War Production Board issued directive L-65, curtailing all nonessential production. Some people even argued that popcorn production should be forbidden. In response, a group of popcorn processors and manufacturers created the National Popcorn Association. The association published a pamphlet “Popcorn is a Fighting Food!” which argued that popcorn contained twice as many energy units as a pound of steak and that it was a “moral builder,” a “universally liked food” and an “essential wartime food.” After publication of this pamphlet, the War Production Board declared popcorn to be an essential product.
- 3. Popcorn pioneer — Agricultural scientist Orville Redenbacher revolutionized the popcorn industry by discovering the first genetic improvement in popcorn in 5,000 years. Redenbacher’s “snowflake” kernels expanded more than 40 times their original size when popped, rather than the normal 20, resulting in lighter, fluffier popcorn.
- 2. The world’s producer — Nearly all of the world’s popcorn is produced in the United States. Nebraska produces one-fourth of America’s production of popcorn, with Indiana right behind. Other major popcorn producing states are Illinois, Ohio, and Missouri.
- 1. Eating it up — The average American eats about 68 quarts of popcorn each year. As a whole, Americans consume 17.3 billion quarts of popcorn each year.
Sources: Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America by Andrew F. Smith; World Teachers Press; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; National Public Radio; Wikipedia; Frito-Lay; the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; The New York Times; U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Library; the Popcorn Board
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