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A pop of Popcorn History

A pop of Popcorn History

It’s the weekend, and you and your family are enjoying Movie Night. As the roar of a CGI dinosaur rumbles through your Dolby 7.1 sound system, and you see the reptile’s highly-detailed and rendered face suddenly fill your home theater’s 85-inch 4k screen; you lean back into your plush leather movie theater seat and reach for the snack tray. Your snack of choice: Popcorn.

The fact is; you’re not alone.  According to the Popcorn Institute (yes, that’s a thing) Americans snack on 13 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually or 42 quarts per man, woman and child. Popcorn is the frontrunner among movie concession snacks, which includes soda and candy. So it’s really a no-brainer that home theaters also serve up humungous tubs (or bowls) of these tasty, salted, and buttered (or even flavored) kernels. But did you know that popcorn was actually shunned in movie theaters for a time? As part of our effort to bring movie snack knowledge straight to your tray (see what we did there?), we would like to offer up a brief history of this ubiquitous snack staple of the movie (or home) theater.

The popcorn we know today comes from maize, a plant which was cultivated roughly 8,000 years ago from a wild grass with the name teosinte. Popcorn is actually a Central American variant of maize. It was brought to New England in America during the early 19th century. In 1848, the Dictionary of Americanisms included the term “popcorn” to denote the snack made by popping kernels of corn. Apparently, popping corn became such an amusing activity for people at the time that its popularity and accessibility spread everywhere. Then, when Charles Cretor invented the first steam-powered popcorn maker; popcorn became a portable, mass-producible, and mobile snack option. Entertainment venues like circuses, outdoor sports events, and fairs started selling it.          

At the time, movies were mainly silent and black and white. Movie theaters presented themselves as very classy venues, similar to the theaters on Broadway. They sought to attract a very well-educated crowd; as one had to be literate to read the text flashed during each scene. Then came the “talkies”: movies with sound which made it possible for everyone to understand and appreciate what the characters were saying without having to read text from the screen. They came at a time when America was suffering from the Great Depression, and people needed a cheap form of entertainment as a temporary escape from reality.

Theater owners didn’t take kindly to the messiness and the noise that popcorn brought at first, and they couldn’t accommodate popcorn machines inside their venues due to lack of proper ventilation. But soon; for a small fee, vendors could sell popcorn at the theaters’ lobbies directly to the people entering the movie theater (or at least a space in front of the theater).  Popcorn vendors saw this as an opportunity to sell their snacks to both the movie patrons and passers-by. Everyone could afford a bag of popped corn for five or ten cents; and people loved it. Pretty soon, the movie theaters began cutting the vendors out of the picture, and began selling their own snacks in concession stands to survive the Depression.

When World War 2 broke out, sugar was in low supply as the bulk of it was being sent to the military for the soldiers; which meant that snacks like candies and soda were becoming scarce due to sugar rationing. Popcorn rose to the occasion as a favorite snack because there were no salt or popcorn kernel shortages, and it became the go-to snack in theaters. Popcorn became a permanent fixture in movie theaters, and is now widely enjoyed in home theaters as well. So as you reach for the popcorn in your snack tray, take a moment to appreciate the fascinating history behind it.

Speaking of Snack Trays; Seats and Chairs.com offers Small and Large Snack Trays that will hold your soda, popcorn, and other snacks for Movie Night. Of course, we can also supply you with new or used Movie Theater Seats; as well as other Home Theater accessories. Call us at (800) 632-7657, or contact us online for all of your product inquiries and for more information.

 

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