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Home > Useful Links > History of Popcorn

History of Popcorn

Prehistoric Popcorn
In 1948, ancient ears of popcorn were found in the Bat Cave of west central New Mexico by anthropologist Herbert Dick and botanist Earle Smith. Layers of trash, garbage and excrement was found in a site known to have been occupied by cave dwellers practicing primitive agriculture three thousand years ago. Among the garbage was 766 types of shelled cobs, 125 loose kernels and 8 pieces of corn husks. The deeper they dug, the smaller and more primitive the corn cobs. At the bottom, they found tiny cobs of popcorn where each kernel was encased in itís own husk. Among the ancient kernels, 6 were popped. They have been carbon dated to be over 5,000 years old.

European Introduction to Popcorn
In 1519, the Conquistador Cortes came into contact with the Aztec Indians and popcorn when he invaded Mexico. Popcorn was a staple food to the Aztecs, but they also used popcorn for decoration, ceremonial headdresses, necklaces, and ornaments.

Popcorn and other maize types had spread to all Native American tribes in North America by the time Europeans settled America. More than 700 types of popcorn were being grown and some Native American tribes even consumed popcorn beer. The Iroquois Indians popped popcorn in pottery vessels with heated sand and sometimes used it to make popcorn soup.

Native American folklore tells of spirits who lived inside kernels of popcorn. The spirits were calm and happy until their houses were heated. The hotter their houses, the angrier the spirits grew. Finally they would burst out of their homes as a disgruntled puff of steam.

Some Native Americans spread oil on an ear of popcorn and placed it near a fire. This caused the kernels to pop still attached to the ear. It was like eating popped corn on the cob.

At the first Thanksgiving, the brother of the Wampanoag chief, Quadequina brought a deer skin bag of popcorn as a gift.

Colonial women served popcorn with sugar and cream for breakfast. This was the first puffed breakfast cereal.

20th Century Popcorn
Movie theaters across the U.S. opened in the early 20th century. Along with this, popcorn became part of the new excitement.

During the Great Depression (1929-1939), popcorn was one of the few luxuries that broke families could afford. Other businesses failed across the country, but the popcorn industry boomed. One story tells of an Oklahoma banker who lost everything when his bank failed. He bought a popcorn machine and set up a small popcorn business near a movie theater. A couple of years later, he had made enough money selling popcorn to buy back three farms he had lost previously.

While World War II (1941-1945) was going on, sugar was sent to American soldiers overseas. Because of that, there was not a lot of sugar left in the United States to make candy. With the lack of sugar novelty treats, Americans ate three times the amount of popcorn as before.

With the introduction of television in the 1950ís, popcorn sales rose an amazing 500 percent!

Popcorn Today
Popcorn is still an American favorite. Americans consume over one billion pounds of popcorn each year. Thatís almost 70 quarts of popcorn per person!


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