Imagine you are in a movie theatre. Lights out. Seated. And then, you smell it. That warm, savoury, buttery, salty fragrance of freshly made bucket of popcorn. It’s just mouth-watering.
It’s now impossible to imagine a movie theatre or even watching a movie without a bucket of extravagantly buttery, salty popcorn (or, catching a smell of it).
But how did this perfect pairing emerge?
Origins Of Popcorn
Maize was cultivated around 8,000 years ago. Puffed kernels of corn, aka popcorn, actually come from a strain of corn which has starchy kernels and a hard outer cover. When heated extensively, the pressure buildup inside the kernels makes them pop.
Due to its dry nature, it was very easy to carry popcorn kernels, thus popcorn became extremely popular in the US by the 1800s. Popcorn was very easy to make and was cheap too. But, after the invention of the steam-powered popcorn maker in 1885, popcorn completely exploded onto the scene and was available everywhere.
Rise Of Popcorn
Initially, popcorn, being immensely cheap, was considered as a low-class snack. It used to be mostly sold only on streets, fairs, carnivals etc. but not at the movie theatre.
Earlier, theatregoers used to think of themselves as the elite class. Movies were thought of as high-class entertainment only. Thus, having a seemingly low-class snack like popcorn at a cultural centre was not allowed.
According to Andrew Smith, author of Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn, “Movie theatres wanted nothing to do with popcorn.” He continued, “Because they were trying to duplicate what was done in real theatres. They had beautiful carpets and rugs and didn’t want popcorn being ground into it.”
How Popcorn Entered The Theatres
Addition of sound in movies in the 1930s caused a global phenomenon. Now, literacy was no longer necessary to watch a film (as silent movies used to have captions in them). Thus, movies suddenly got access to a much wider audience.
Watching this huge growth in the market, vendors started selling popcorn to the moviegoers just outside the theatre. This led to a huge profit as the snack was available to both moviegoers and the passersby.
Eventually, the theatre owners saw the financial appeal of the snack, as more and more people came to the movie already accompanied by popcorn.
Consequently, the vendors were given “lobby privileges” inside the theatre. In time, all the theatres installed popcorn machines and thus making popcorn became a movie-watching staple thereafter.
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This post is tagged under: Popcorn, Movies, movie theatre, Maize, kernels, US, cheap, steam-powered popcorn maker, Andrew Smith, Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn, silent movies, audience, vendors, snack, movie-watching staple