Popcorn Comes Into its Own

As sought-after as popcorn was in the colonial and industrial periods, it wasn’t widely available as a grocery. If you wanted it you generally grew it yourself or got it from some other nearby farmer, probably by bartering. It wasn’t until the 1880’s that popcorn really took off as a commercial product. By most accounts it was the Albert Dickinson Company in Iowa that first began packing and selling popcorn in consumer-sized portions, under the brand names Big Buster and Little Buster. Given Dickinson’s success, it’s surprising that it took so long for a big national brand to get off the ground. Yet it wasn’t until 1914 that the American Pop Corn Company (also an Iowa concern) launched Jolly Time Popcorn, a brand that’s still with us.

As they say in business, timing is everything. And as it turned out, popcorn was the perfect snack food for a tumultuous period. It was the ideal low-effort, high-margin snack for movie house owners, an attainable luxury for struggling depression-era families, and a reasonable substitute for candy during the rationing era of World War II. Later, television sets brought the movie theater snacking habit directly into the living room, causing the popcorn market to balloon like a foil bag of Jiffy Pop. Today popcorn is more popular that it’s ever been, thanks largely to the advent of microwave popcorn and, most recently, the proliferation of gourmet seasonings. Today there are mixes that can make popcorn taste like almost anything, from barbecue to Mexican food, even smores.

Anyone else getting hungry?

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