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The History of Popcorn

It’s the official snack of moviegoers everywhere. But do you know where it comes from? Popcorn is made from a specific variety of corn, or maize, that was first domesticated by Pre-Columbian indigenous peoples around 5000 B.C.E. Popcorn itself did not appear in America until the 1820s, when the snack began to be sold in the eastern US under the name Pearl or Nonpareil. It quickly spread to other regions and by 1848, the word “popcorn” was included in Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms; the compendium claimed that the name came from the noise the corn made upon bursting open.

Today, we consider movies and popcorn to be inextricably linked. But interestingly enough, movie theaters were originally resistant to offering popcorn – owners worried it would be a nuisance, and the required ventilation equipment was an added expense. However, when the Great Depression hit, movie theaters changed their tune and began offering popcorn when they realized that it was a small luxury that patrons could afford and were willing to spend their limited funds on. Instead of installing expensive indoor concession booths, however, theater owners charged popcorn cart vendors a dollar a day to sell popcorn outside their venues. It wasn’t until the tail end of the 1930s, when Glen W. Dickson proved that installing popcorn machines in the lobbies of his theaters was quite profitable, that the indoor popcorn stands we are so familiar with today finally caught on.

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