Popcorn is there for the best moments. There’s that gargantuan tub of hot buttered popcorn at the movie theater. There’s that stale yet satisfying box of popcorn at the baseball game. There’s kettle corn at the fair and popcorn balls in the fall. But where did all this popcorn come from? Who invented popcorn? Or did someone just discover it, in which case, who discovered popcorn? And who invented microwavable popcorn? We’ve popped a lot of questions on popcorn, now let’s get some answers.
Who invented popcorn?
Popcorn has been around for a long, long time so it’s hard to say who exactly discovered it. Popcorn was invented in Mesoamerica thousands of years ago. Corn itself was cultivated about 9,000 years ago in Mesoamerica, and the earliest popcorn was discovered in Peru. It was a corn cob studded with puffed kernels. That popcorn likely dates back 6,700 years ago. Popcorn from about 5,000 years ago was also discovered in Mexico. Our first written description of popcorn comes from French explorers who witnessed Iroquois cooking kernels over heated sand.
The popcorn that Native peoples ate across the Americas was different from the fluffy butter bombs we eat today. It was more akin to parched corn—dried corn kernels fried in hot oil. Corn had to be cultivated for thousands of years to become the modern popcorn we’re used to today. Even then, modern fluffy popcorn was cooked in small batches over an open flame or stovetop.
Popcorn history took a turn in 1885 Chicago when a man named Charles Cretors built his popcorn popping machine. Crestors was a candy store owner who tinkered with a peanut roasting machine until he discovered a way to pop popcorn. He attached it to a horse and rode his horse-drawn popcorn wagon across the U.S.
When was microwavable popcorn invented and who invented it?
So how did popcorn get from the open fire to horse-drawn buggies to your microwave? Microwavable popcorn was invented pretty much around the same time as the microwave itself. In 1945 Dr. Percy Spencer was working near a magnetron, a high-powered vacuum tube that generated microwaves, when he noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. Later he placed popcorn kernels near it and saw that they popped! That was the first microwaved popcorn. But it didn’t become a household product until a man named Jim Watkins created a prototype for actual microwave popcorn in the 1970s, and then Lawrence C. Brandberg and David W. Andreas of General Mills provided research that led to the first microwave popcorn bag around the same time.
Commercial microwave popcorn went on sale in grocery stores in 1981, sold by General Mills and Pillsbury. Those old school microwavable popcorn bags were sold either frozen or in the refrigerated section as they had real butter in them.
Some folks think that Orville Redenbacher invented popcorn. He did not, but he did create a kernel that expanded twice as much as any other. Whoever you want to say invented it, I’m just glad that there’s a big popcorn case at the movies that I can crawl into and fall asleep in when no one’s watching!