Corn was first domesticated 9,000 years ago in Mexico. Archaeologists discovered that people have known about popcorn for thousands of years. In Mexico, for example, remnants of popcorn have been found that date to around 3600 BC.
The term popped corn first appeared in John Russell Bartlett’s 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms. Popcorn is an ingredient in Cracker Jack, and in the early years of the product, it was popped by hand.
Popcorn’s accessibility increased in the 1890s with Charles Cretors’ invention of the popcorn maker. Cretors, a Chicago candy store owner, created a number of steam powered machines for roasting nuts, and applied the technology to the corn kernels.
During the Great Depression, popcorn was fairly inexpensive at 5–10 cents a bag and became popular. Thus, while other businesses failed, the popcorn business thrived and became a source of income for many struggling farmers. During World War II, sugar rations diminished candy production, and Americans compensated by eating three times as much popcorn as they had before.
In 1970, Orville Redenbacher’s namesake brand of popcorn was launched. In 1981, General Mills received the first patent for a microwave popcorn bag, with popcorn consumption seeing an increase by tens of thousands of pounds in the years following.