The History Of Popcorn

An American Classic
An American Classic

Popular to contrary belief, the earliest documentations of 'corn' have proved to have referred to which ever grain was most used in that particular civilization. For example, in Egypt there are recordings of 'popped corn' buried in the tombs. But the Egyptians used barley more than corn. It is believed that the reference to 'popped corn' actually popped barley. In England, the corn was wheat and in Scotland and Ireland 'corn' referred to oats. Here in America, maize cultivated the term corn and is still used to this date.

Evidence of the oldest popped corn was found in The Bat Cave of West Central New Mexico and the ears dated to be around 4000 years old. This seemed to prove that popped corn was American in origin. More so, in the 15th and early 16th century, it is documented that the Aztec Indians used popped corn in many ceremonies and even as decorations. But the more 'civilized' world first saw popped corn when Cortes invaded Mexico in 1519. The Aztecs called the popped corn momochitl and said that they were "hailstones given to the god of water" during ceremonies honoring the gods who watched over fishermen.

Just like the Aztecs, the Peruvan Indians also knew about popped corn. As the Spaniard Cobo wrote in 1650, "They toast a certain kind of corn until it bursts. They call it pisancalla, and they use it as a confection."

The widespread planting of maize in the US didn't occur until the mid-1800s, when the moldboard plow became commonplace. And in half a century, popcorn became a favorite to young and old. The spread of popcorn led to putting new flavors with popcorn and new inventions for popping corn. In 1893 C Cretors and Company of Chicago introduced their popcorn machine to the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. It was the first mobile popcorn machine. Thus, the era of the popcorn vendor began.

During the Great Depression of the 19th century, popcorn, with its affordability, became the only luxury Americans could still afford. Selling at five or ten cents a pack, the popcorn business was one of the few to survive the economic struggles.

With the invention of moving pictures and theaters, popcorn still thrived through the 19th century until television became more popular in the 1950's. It was then that popcorn sales plummeted and companies started to provide popcorn in residences all across America. And thanks to Percy Spencer of Raytheon Manufacturing Corporation, we now have the microwave cooking technology. Popping corns was the most important of his experiments with mass production of magnetrons, which were used to generate microwaves, used in World War II.

The rest is history with Americans consuming more than 17 billion quarts of popcorn every year.

Fun Facts

  • Six different cities in the US claim to be the "Popcorn Capital of the World."
  • Most of the maize used specifically for popcorn is grown in Nebraska and Indiana with Texas not far behind.
  • Popcorn is the official state snack food of Illinois.

Comments 1 comment

Carrie 7 years ago

Awesome! I knew there was a reason wny I *heart* the stuff. Make mine sweet and I'll offer it up to the god of water, mighty hailstones that they are.

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