Popcorn: A 'Pop'ular American Snack

Americana, History
on September 29, 2014
Popcorn: A 'Pop'ular American Snack

Light, fluffy and packed with flavor, popcorn has been a go-to snack-time favorite for centuries. Today, Americans consume 16 billion quarts of popcorn annually, from plain to blueberry cheesecake-flavored, at home and around campfires, in movie theaters and sports arenas, and at fairs and theme parks. Although commonly associated with commercial attractions, more than 70 percent of popcorn is consumed in the home.

By the Numbers

  • 31 calories per cup of air-popped popcorn
  • 55 calories per cup of oil-popped popcorn
  • 5,000pounds—the weight of the world’s largest popcorn ball
  • 352,028,160 the minimum number of popped kernels needed to make a trail of popcorn from New York City to Los Angeles
  • 995,774,706 pounds of un-popped popcorn sold in 2012

Through the Years

1519 Explorer Hernán Cortés is introduced to popcorn while exploring mexico.

1893 At the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, brothers Frederick and Louis Rueckheim sell a lip-smacking confection of popcorn, molasses and peanuts. Three years later, they trademarked their product: “Cracker Jack.”

1914 The American Popcorn Co., maker of Jolly Time pop corn, is founded.

1930s Depression-era families turn to popcorn as a nutritious, budget-friendly treat.

1944 Orville Redenbacher begins growing popcorn.

1945 Percy Spencer and the Raytheon Manufacturing Company file a patent for the microwave cooking process.

1945 Movie theater snackers account for more than half of all popcorn eaten in the United States.

1959 Frederick C. Mennen begins marketing Jiffy Pop in a convenient aluminum foil stove top cooking pan.

1978 The hot-air popcorn popper hits the market and allows consumers to prepare low-calorie, low-fat popcorn at home.

1981 Golden Valley Microwave Foods debuts Act I microwave popcorn, a frozen product sold in refrigerated vending machines.

1983 Microwave popcorn bags become widely available and produce $53 million in retail sales.

2003 Jolly Time produces its 1 billionth bag of microwave popcorn.

2011 Orville Redenbacher’s debuts a new Pop Up Bowl.

2012 Ready-to-eat popcorn hits the market.

2014 Jolly Time, the oldest popcorn maker in the U.S., celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Why does popcorn pop?

Inside every kernel is a bit of water and starch. But only one variety of corn—popcorn—has the distinctive ability to pop. As popcorn is heated, the water turns to steam and pressure builds until the hull of the kernel bursts and the starch spills out, creating puffed flakes.

Did You Know?

  • During World War II, the National Popcorn Association made it downright patriotic to eat popcorn at movie theaters with a manifesto, “Popcorn is a fighting food!”
  • Popcorn is the No. 1 movie theater snack of all time.
  • Jacob Bromwell, the oldest kitchenware manufacturer in the U.S., still sells an old-fashioned copper popper crafted in Indiana.
Found in: Americana, History