CHARLOTTE, NC, January 25, 2017 – With all the coverage of last week’s inauguration, an important day came and went without so much as a whimper. We would be remiss without acknowledging National Popcorn Day (January 19), though somewhat belatedly.
1 — How did popcorn find its way to Europe: During his first voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus discovered that Native Americans were fond of a snack where kernels of corn popped up many times their original size to create what we call today “popcorn.”
The treat was so popular among local tribes that they used it as part of the peace process during negotiations because many of them believed the spirits of their ancestors lived within the kernels.
Settlers enjoyed the crunchy snack as well and soon began growing the corn themselves on their farms. When old Chris returned to Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain, he brought popcorn with him.
2 — The great popcorn decline of the ’50s: When television gained popularity in the 1950s, many observers believed that movies would quickly die as a form of entertainment. Considering that popcorn was a mainstay for moviegoers, the great “popcorn famine” of the ’50s was a direct result of the short-lived fad that television had created for the entertainment dollar.
Though the “Golden Age of Television” gradually blended back into its own realm where television and movies could co-exist, another innovation aided the re-growth of popcorn’s popularity.
The machine was called the microwave oven which made popcorn as popular at home as it was at the movies.
Orville Redenbacher never had it so good.
3 — Movies and popcorn weren’t always allies: Believe it or not, movie theaters were not always thrilled with the idea of serving popcorn. Much like air travel was once regarded as glamorous rather than being flying buses, the cinema considered itself appealing to elite society much in the same manner as live theater, the symphony or the ballet.
As far as theater owners were concerned, popcorn was the stuff of street vendors and sidewalk food carts. So paranoid were theater owners that the puffed kernels would fall on the floor and stain the carpeting or, perhaps, be too noisy during the showing of the film, that many theaters actually banned popcorn.
Movies introduced the “talkies” in 1927 and, by 1929, the Depression was taking its toll on motion picture attendance.
Sound had great appeal to the masses and, at the same time, people who were able to attend the movies began craving an inexpensive snack. Popcorn filled that bill, not to mention that the sounds of chomping kernels of corn during the showing of the film had virtually no effect on the ability to hear the soundtrack.
At first, film fans began buying popcorn out on the street and taking it into the theater with them. It was then that the cinema palaces realized they could actually make a nice little profit by selling the snack themselves.
Soon after when the United States entered the war, the government started to send sugar overseas to aid soldiers in their military efforts. With sugar being available in reduced quantities, candy became less available at movie shows.
The substitute? The salty snack known as popcorn became ever more popular and the rest is history.
One thing is certain in 2017. Just as hot dogs taste better at a ballpark, so, too, does popcorn seem to taste better at the movies. Scientists are still doing research to find out why.
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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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