Fossil evidence from Peru suggests that corn was popped as early as 4,700 BC. Believe it or not popcorn has been a popular snack for thousands of years. The very first corn domesticated by the ancient people of Mesoamerica wasn’t flour corn or sweet corn. They started out with popcorn. A few years ago, archeologists discovered popcorn cobs that were about 6000 years old. They think this high yield crop helped fuel the rise of the Aztec Empire. When you have a very highly productive crop like corn, it makes the rise of high civilizations possible. After a couple of thousand years, the Mesoamericans managed to cultivate varieties of corn that were good for flour too, but they still ate popcorn.

An interesting anecdote tracing the history of popcorn comes from a paleobotanist named Dolores Piperno, who grows a unique grain called teostine. This grain is dubbed to be the great-ancestor of modern corn. It has just a few kernels on each stalk, and they're too hard to eat or to grind into flour. But teosinte has a special property that makes up for these shortcomings and that is that it can pop. According to Dolores, all early corns were popcorns. Corn was first domesticated in Mexico around 9,000 years ago from teosinte, believes Dolores. A few thousand years later, corn was brought to South America, where farmers bred the plant crop into hundreds of varieties. 

Corn Kernels. Credit: Pixabay

How Popcorn Became Popular 

As populations of colonists moved throughout America, they took their popcorn with them. When the use of the moldboard plow became commonplace in the mid-1800s in America, it led to the widespread planting of maize. As a result, popcorn could be mass produced now. The Popcorn's accessibility also increased manifolds in the 1890s with Charles Cretors' invention of the popcorn maker. By the turn of the century, Charles had created and deployed street carts equipped with steam-powered popcorn makers.

A miniature popcorn street cart. Credit: Pexels.

The Great Depression 

Popcorn was extremely popular from the 1890s until the Great Depression. Following crowds around, street vendors used to push steam powered poppers through fairs, parks and expositions. During the Depression, popcorn for 5 or 10 cents a bag, was one of the few luxuries a financially impacted family could afford. While other businesses failed, the popcorn business thrived. Did you know that an Oklahoma banker who went broke when his bank failed bought a popcorn machine and started a business in a small store near a theater? The fortunes smiled upon him and after a couple of years, his popcorn business made enough money to buy back three of the farms he'd lost.

Popcorn At The Movies 

The sale of popcorn, unlike other confectioneries wasn’t impacted by the Depression, in fact it grew. A big reason for this was the introduction of popcorn in theatres. By now popcorn could be produced and sold at a low cost. One theater owner actually lowered the price of his theater tickets and added a popcorn machine. He soon saw huge profits. Eventually, theater owners began installing popcorn machines inside their cineplexes; those who refused to sell popcorn quickly went out of business. The trend through globalisation swiftly took over the globe and today, you can find popcorns in the movie theatres and in grocery stores. 

Credit: Pexels.