Orville Redenbacher and the History of Popcorn

Orville Redenbacher and the History of Popcorn

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He’s the man whose face brought America’s favorite move treat home: Orville Redenbacher, a man who would have been 104 today. To honor him and the product he so passionately endorsed his whole life, here’s a look at the history of popcorn and Redenbacher’s story.

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Though it seems like a modern snack, popcorn is actually one of the oldest forms of corn. According to WhatsCookingAmerica.net, evidence of popcorn – including both unpopped and popped kernels – was found in a cave in New Mexico that dates back to 3600 B.C. In Native American tribal folklore, it is said that each popcorn kernel contained a quiet spirit that became angered when the kernels were heated. When the heat became too much the spirit would burst out of the kernel, resulting in the popping. The Aztec people were known to use popcorn as ritual decoration and ceremonial accessories.

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When the English settlers came to America, they learned about popcorn from the Native Americans and the colonists adopted the snack as their own. In the 1880s, the Albert Dickinson Co. of Odebolt, Iowa, became the first to market popcorn under the brands Big Buster and Little Buster. In 1885, the first popcorn machine was invented. Thereafter, popcorn machines became a common site on street corners, parks, fairs, expos, and eventually movie theaters. Then the Great Depression hit. Where every other food suffered due to high costs, popcorn flourished. It was only five to ten cents a bag, making it a comparatively cheap treat, so its popularity grew and popcorn thrived. According to Gourmet.com, popcorn saw another boost during WWII when candy rations were low, so Americans ate three times more popcorn then before.

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In the early 1950s, the popcorn business saw a slump. Television was the popular new form of entertainment and there was no way of peddling popcorn if people weren’t leaving their houses. Or was there? Companies began making popcorn that could be eaten at home and popcorn popped back into the public eye. That’s where Mr. Redenbacher enters the scene.

Orville Redenbacher was born on a farm in Brazil, Indiana, in 1907. At 12, he began to grow and peddle his own popping corn, which allowed him to save money for college. He graduated from Perdue University with a degree in agronomy and as a member of Alpha Gamma Rho, an agriculture-oriented fraternity. Upon graduating, Redenbacher went into the fertilizer business, where he was able to make a small fortune. But he never forgot his old hobby. So in 1944, he began raising popping corn for supermarkets. According to the Orville Redinbacher website, in 1965, he and his business partner Charles Bowman managed to create an ideal popcorn hybrid that was light, fluffy, and, most importantly, pre-disposed to pop. They began marketing the product under the name “RedBow” but they were told to take a more personal approach and use the name Orville Redenbacher instead. In 1970, Orville Redenbacher hit the scene and took over pantries everywhere.

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Of course, Mr. Redenbacher is most known for his signature look and commercials. In fact, he was so iconic that people did not believe he was a real person. No one can be that wholesome, people thought. So Redenbacher began appearing on talk shows to prove that he was the real deal. And a star was made.

So melt some butter, get out the big bowl, and get some corn a-popping in celebration of Mr. Redenbacher and his fabulous popping corn.

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