The Ad Lib
Newsletter September 10, 2020
Popcorn … that delectable treat combination of fluffiness, butter and salt! How did it ever become so entrenched as a movie experience necessity?
As you may know (since our readers a pretty brilliant), corn was first cultivated in Mexico about 7,000 years ago. As tribes migrated north, corn became a diet staple for Native Americans. Some believe that popped corn was popularized by whalers who traveled from South America to New England in the early 19th century. By 1848, popcorn was widely available at outdoor events such as circuses and fairs. The first mobile steam-powered popcorn machine was invented by Charles Cretor in 1885 which made the salty treat more accessible to the public.
During the Silent Films Era of the 1920’s, movie theaters did not allow popcorn or any kind of food. In fact, signs were hung at their coat check areas to remind patrons to check their coats and their popcorn. Theater owners felt popcorn would be too messy on their woven carpets and rugs
Then the “talkies” hit in 1927, suddenly theaters were booming. By 1930, over 90 million people per week were going to the movies. Because theatres were not built to ventilate properly, theater owners would lease out lobby or sidewalk space to popcorn vendors. As time marched on, theaters started building in the capacity to pop their own popcorn. During the Great Depression, popcorn sold for 5 to 10 cents a bag. Theaters selling popcorn survived. Many of the theaters that did not offer popcorn, did not survive.
In the 1940s, World War II saw widespread sugar rationing which limited the availability of soda and candy. Popcorn sales were growing and deeply embedded into the movie going experience.
Do you remember the iconic ad “Let’s All Go to the Lobby”? This ad debuted in 1957 on movie screens nationwide highlighting the importance of concessions to the movie industry’s bottom line.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s, movie attendance dropped with the new star on the horizon, television. Popcorn became easier to make at home with products such as Jiffy Pop. Microwaves in the 1970’s made the popping even easier.
Currently with the growing popularity of luxury theatres and a steady resurgence of independent theaters, popcorn has taken its place once again as the number one movie treat.
From our personal experience, popcorn and other concession sales is what sustains us, keeping the lights on and paying our wonderful local staff.
Until next time, we’ll just keep popping!
Sources: Smithsonian Magazine 10/03/2013 and Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn by Andrew Smith