From Mesoamerica to Modern Movie Theatres: the history of popcorn
Going to see a movie these days just wouldn’t be right without a giant bag of butter-smothered popcorn in your lap, but it wasn’t always just a treat that folks enjoyed in front of the big screen. While we all might know it as the treat sold at stands inside movie theatres, it is actually a snack with significant history and historical importance; in fact, it stretches back 9,000 years! In honour of our awesome popcorn machines and cart rentals, let’s learn more about the history of popcorn.
The people of Mesoamerica (roughly from Central Mexico through Northern Costa Rica) cultivated many crops to help fuel their growing civilisation – one of the largest in the world before the arrival of Europeans. This area is where corn, known to natives as maize, is native to. Eventually it was discovered that heating the kernels would sometimes lead to popping, and if not, at least a yummy kernel to chew on. Popcorn must have been a snack widely enjoyed amongst the ancient indigenous people of Mesoamerica because archaeologists have found remnants of it dating back 3,000 years.
Like many other products in our society, what was a simple homemade snack was totally revolutionized during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. By the end of the 19th century, a candy store owner named Charles Cretor invented the first popcorn maker after becoming frustrated with his nut roaster. Although the Great Depression that followed in the 20th century was terrible for many people, it was great for popcorn. It was so inexpensive (a far cry from what movie theatres charge patrons today!) that everyone could enjoy it.
So when did corn go from being a staple crop to a staple of movie-going? The funny thing is that many theatre owners hated the popularity of the snack in the early days because they thought it created a distraction from the movies. It became immensely popular because sugar rationing during the war lead to a decrease in candy production, which was compensated for with popcorn. Eventually the trend spread after a Midwest theatre owner, Glen Dickenson, installed a popcorn machine in his lobby, leading to big financial success. To this day, many places in the Midwestern United States claim to be the popcorn capital of the world.
There are a few snacks in the world today that rival the ease, deliciousness, and flexibility of popcorn. Eat it plain, salt it up, or smother it in butter, whatever it takes to make a great snack. Want our popcorn machine at your next Toronto event? Just let us know!