Why Do We Eat Popcorn At The Movies: Origin And History Of The Staple Snack

From a cash crop to movie theaters to microwaves and beyond, nothing can stop the appeal of popped corn.

Popcorn is one of the most beloved snacks and has been enjoyed across the globe for thousands of years. Perhaps the world’s oldest snack food, popcorn is easy to cook and can be seasoned in hundreds of ways. Let us delve into the origin of this staple snack and find out what made it so popular.

The first popped corn

The history of popcorn is deep throughout the Americas, where corn is a staple food, but the oldest popcorn known to date was found in New Mexico. In 1948, Herbert Dick and Earle Smith discovered small heads of corn and individually popped kernels deep in a dry cave known as the “Bat Cave.” The kernels have since been carbon-dated to be approximately 5,600 years old.

History and origin

Decorated funeral urns in Mexico dating back to 300 A.D. depict a maize god with popped kernels adorning his headdress. Evidence of popcorn throughout South and Central America, particularly in Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru is rampant.

From farms to fairgrounds

Popcorn has long been popped in pots over a flame, but the turn of the 19th century brought a flurry of popcorn innovation. A Kentucky resident, Frederick J. Myers in 1875 patented a corn-popping device that added a stay-cool handle. But popcorn’s real rise wouldn’t come until sellers could easily carry popping machines around with them. That happened in Chicago in 1885, when Charles Cretors invented a lightweight electric machine that popped corn in oil, allowing vendors to easily move along with crowds in search of a better profit. Back then, popcorn vendors relied mostly on crowds at street fairs, festivals, and sporting events for all of their sales.

From movies to microwaves

By 1885 roaming popcorn vendors could often be found near the crowds, especially outside of theaters. This gave birth to popcorn being sold as a classic movie snack. With the invention of television, attendance at movie theaters dropped drastically and so did the consumption of popcorn. This slump was quickly reversed with the introduction of commercially available microwave popcorn in 1981, which caused home consumption of popcorn to skyrocket.

Uses of popcorn today

Today, popcorn is still the delicious snack that is loved throughout history; people eat approximately 17 billion quarts of popped corn every year. There are many twists to the classic popcorn that has arisen in recent years. Much like the Aztecs did in their time, people still use popcorn as decorations, especially during Christmas time.

From bat caves to pre-popped microwave popcorn, this staple snack has made a huge mark on the world and will continue to be loved by many.


Satavisha hails from the city of joy, Kolkata. She took up writing as my profession amid the pandemic when the world was at a standstill. Here, she acquired a balance between her passion for writing and sharing various ideas and facts through her stories.
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