Pop! Pop! Pop! Close your eyes -- you can almost smell the corn popping. Popcorn is one of the most universally loved snacks of all time. Everyone seems to love popcorn. It has become one of the most popular snacks found at movie theatres, sporting events, amusement parks, and nearly everywhere else where people gather. Americans in particular are big consumers of popcorn and snacks in general. Which is not surprising considering that popcorn was introduced over 5,000 years ago by the American Indian. It's believed by archaeologists and researchers to be the oldest of five sweet corns: Indian corn, pod corn, popcorn, sweet corn and field corn.
Archaeologists have found 80,000-year-old corn pollen in Mexico City. Because this pollen is almost exactly the same as modern popcorn pollen, researchers believe that "cave people" are likely to have had popcorn.
Popcorn is thought to be originally grown in Mexico but somehow it had spread globally through India and China a great number of years before the first European explorers arrived on North America's shores. The oldest ears of corn ever found were discovered in the Bat Cave of west central New Mexico in 1948 and 1950. Grains of popcorn over 1,000 years old were discovered on Peru's east coast. Preservation methods of the Peruvian Indians was so advanced that 1,000 years later, this corn still pops. The Indians of North and South America popped corn 2,000 years ago. Christopher Columbus, in 1492, observed West Indian natives wearing popcorn as jewelry and used it to decorate ceremonial headdresses. In 1519, Cortes got his first sight of popcorn while invading Mexico and coming into contact with the Aztecs. Popcorn was important snacks for the Aztec Indians, who also used popcorn as decoration for ceremonial necklaces, headdresses and ornaments on statues of their gods. Cortes noted that they referred it as symbolization of goodwill and peace. French explorers, traveling in the Great Lakes region in the early 1600's, mentioned in their documents about the Iroquois Indians use of popcorn. This popcorn was popped in pottery with heated sand. The Iroquois also cooked popcorn soup and popcorn beer. Popcorn was spreading through almost all tribes of North and South America by the time the Pilgrims arrived.
Popcorn was very popular from the 1890s until the Great Depression. Popcorn carts were seen on every street always following the crowds after its invention in 1885. The tasty snacks were sold throughout parks, fairs, carnivals, conventions and expositions. Home versions of popcorn poppers were invented in 1925 and quickly bought up by those able to afford them. During the Depression, popcorn at 5 or 10 cents a bag was one of the few luxuries unemployed could afford. While other businesses failed, the popcorn business thrived. During World War II, when sugar was rationed, Americans changed their habits of eating other popular kind of snacks -- they ate three times as much popcorn as they had before. The popcorn industry fell into decay during the early 1950s, when television became popular. Attendance at movie theatres dropped and, with it, popcorn consumption. Microwave popcorn (1940) has already accounted for $240 million in annual U.S. popcorn sales in the 1990s. Today Americans eat over one billion pounds of popcorn per year. The average American consumes approximately 70 quarts per person yearly.