Popcorn has delighted us for generations. It’s our favourite movie snack, comfort food at home, and a near-endless way to entertain children.
Popcorn has been around for thousands of years and has been used in a variety of ways, from worshipping gods to becoming a snack.
According to The Nibble, the oldest popcorn known to date was discovered in 1948 by anthropologist Herbert Dick and botanist Earle Smith in the “Bat Cave” in west-central New Mexico.
The food site reveals that archaeologists deduced that popcorn was first made by throwing corn kernels onto sizzling hot stones, tended over a campfire, or onto heated sand, causing the kernels to pop. This was not eaten as a snack – the corn was sifted and then pounded into a fine, powdery meal and mixed with water.
How did it become the premier movie snack?
Try to imagine going to a movie room that sold only chips or sweets. It is downright inconceivable today, but during the rise of movie theatres in the early 20th century, popcorn was far from a standard snack.
The crumbly kernels were a particularly bad fit for luxurious silent movie theatres. As Smithsonian tells the story, popcorn became popular starting in 1885 when the first steam-powered popcorn maker allowed the snack to hit the streets.
The website reveals that the portable machine made it the perfect means for serving patrons attending outdoor sporting events, circuses and fairs. Also, it could be mass-produced without a kitchen, an advantage that another crunchy snack, potato chips, lacked.
Another reason for its dominance over other snacks was its appealing aroma when popped, something street vendors used to their advantage when selling popcorn. Still, movie theatres wouldn’t allow the popular street snack into their auditoriums.
“The Great Depression presented an excellent opportunity for both movies and popcorn. Looking for a cheap diversion, audiences flocked to the movies. And at 5 to 10 cents a bag, popcorn was a luxury that most people were able to afford. If those inside the theaters couldn’t see the financial lure of popcorn, enterprising street vendors didn’t miss a beat: they bought their own popping machines and sold popcorn outside the theaters to moviegoers before they entered the theater. Popcorn, it seems, was the original clandestine movie snack. Beyond wanting to maintain appearances, early movie theaters weren’t built to accommodate the first popcorn machines; the theaters lacked proper ventilation.”
“But as more and more customers came to the theater with popcorn in hand, owners couldn’t ignore the financial appeal of selling the snack. So they leased “lobby privileges” to vendors, allowing them to sell their popcorn in the lobby of their theater (or more likely on a bit of street in front of the theater) for a daily fee. Vendors didn’t complain about this arrangement – selling popcorn outside the theater widened their business potential, as they could sell to both moviegoers and people on the street. Eventually, movie theater owners realized that if they cut out the middleman, their profits would skyrocket. For many theaters, the transition to selling snacks helped save them from the crippling depression,” they wrote.