The History of Popcorn Machines

Popcorn’s history dates back more than 5,000 years ago, but it has not always been as convenient to make as it is now. With popcorn makers from Gold Medal and Paragon, this buttery snack is ready to eat in mere minutes. Popcorn has come a long way from the campfire and street vendors to the ease of making it in your home theater.

One of the ancient ways to popcorn was by heating sand in a fire and stirring kernels of popcorn in when the sand became fully heated. Another method was throwing popcorn kernels on sizzling hot stone tended over a raging campfire. As the popcorn shot off in various directions, people would try to catch the popcorn, and the reward was eating it.

In 1612, French explorers in the Great Lakes region described the use of popcorn by Iroquois: Popcorn was popped in pottery with heated sand. Dinner included popcorn soup and popcorn beer.

Ancient poppers made of soapstone, pottery, and metal have been found in Indian excavation sites, most of which would be set directly in the fire. And when they made popcorn, oil was optional depending on how the individual preferred it.

During his exploration of Paraguay in the 18th century, Felix de Azara talked about a certain kind of popcorn with kernels on the tassel, which when “it is boiled in fat or oil, the grains burst without becoming detached, and there results in a superb bouquet fit to adorn a lady’s hair at night without anyone knowing what it was. I have often eaten these burst grains and found them very good.”

Crude popcorn poppers were being invented at this point. Many were small mesh baskets with a handle made by blacksmiths. Some poppers measured up to eight feet across to hold large amounts.

In 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Charles Cretors, founder of C. Cretors and Company in Chicago, introduced the first mobile popcorn machine. Scientific American reported, “The apparatus, which is light and strong, and weighing but 400 or 500 pounds, can be drawn readily by a boy or by a small pony to any picnic ground, fair, political rally, etc. and to many other places where a good business could be done for a day or two.”

Percy Spencer discovered how to mass-produce magnetrons, which were being used to generate microwaves for use in World War II. Spencer prompted the development of the microwave oven, and popcorn was essential to his experiments.

The Papago Indians of Arizona still use clay pots up to eight feet wide today. These pots are known as “ollas,” and can be dated back to 1,500 years ago to the South American Indian and Mexican cultures.

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