The oldest known signs of popcorn were discovered in 1948 at an archaeological dig in a New Mexico known only as "Bat Cave." Amongst layers of trash and other remnants, the pair found many kernels, a few of which had been popped. The kernels were so well preserved that they could pop even today: the pair demonstrated by dropping a few into hot oil and popping them. Carbon dating revealed these kernels are approximately 5,000 years old!19th & 20th Century History
A Zapotec funeral urn found in Mexico and dating about 300 A.D. depicts a Maize god with symbols representing primitive popcorn in his headdress.
In southwest Utah, a millenium old popped kernel of popcorn was found in a dry cave inhabited by predecessors of the Pueblo Indian.
Hernando Cortes, Spanish explorer and conqueror of the Aztec Empire of Mexico, got his first sight of popcorn when he invaded Mexico and came into contact with the Aztec people. Popcorn was an important food for the Aztec Indians, who also used popcorn as decoration for ceremonial headdresses, necklaces, and ornaments on statues of their gods.
The Albert Dickinson Co. appears to be the first commercial popcorn company in the 1880's. Their popcorn brands were called Big and Little Buster, presumably for the size of the popcorn produced.Modern Popcorn
In 1914, Cloid H. Smith founded the American Pop Corn Company in the heart of corn country (Sioux City, Iowa) and launched America's first brand name popcorn, Jolly Time. In 1925, he introduced Jolly Time in a can designed specifically for popcorn. The can carried the bold slogan, "Guaranteed to pop."
The Depression Era was a hard time for many American families, but popcorn remained one of the few luxuries affordable by even the most down-and-out families. While many businesses failed, the popcorn industry continued to thrive as popcorn consumption in the states continued to rise, thanks to the introduction and proliferation of the movie theatre.
World War II and the rationing that took place during that period saw the next surge in popcorn consumption. Because a large portion of the country's sugar supply was being sent to soldiers overseas, confectioners found themselves hard pressed to produce candy, and consumers turned to popcorn as a snack while observing sugarless days. This resulted in a 300% increase in popcorn consumption!
Even a 300% increase, however, pales in comparison to the rise in popcorn consumption brought on by the television. As more and more Americans purchased TV sets, popcorn consumption soared a whopping 500% as families popped the treat to eat while enjoying their favorite TV programs.
The end of the 20th century saw the first measurable decline in popcorn consumption in the United States. 1993 marked the pinnacle of popcorn retail sales at 1.15 billion pounds sold, but the next decade saw a steady decline until 2001, when a reported 1 billion pounds were sold.
Popcorn producers in the U.S. are hopeful, as sales numbers have begun rising again. Experts speculate that the rapid spread of home theaters and the availability of home popcorn machines is largely responsible, and predict this trend will continue for several years to come!