Who doesn’t love going to the cinema or watching a film at home and tucking into a great big bowl of buttery popcorn? It’s bliss! The taste is sublime!
While chomping on those popped kernels, have you ever wondered who invented the popcorn maker? If so, read on. In this article, we look at the history of popcorn machines, including who first thought of the idea and how their designs developed throughout the years.
Corn Has Been Popped for Thousands of Years
First off, popping popcorn is not a modern process; what we know as basic corn has been harvested and domesticated for roughly 10,000 years. There are six staple types of corn, but the Zea Mays has an amazing popping process.
Numerous findings have shown that ancient Peruvian cultures were producing popcorn as early as 4,700 BC! Admittedly, they probably weren’t adding butter or making amazing toffee popcorn, but still, it’s interesting to know.
But Charles Cretors Created the First Popcorn Maker
While popcorn kernels have been exploding for tens of thousands of years, it was not until the 19th century that a popcorn machine that could do this on a larger scale was developed and therefore used for retail purposes.
Enter the legendary Charles Cretors. This American entrepreneur was a traveller and scoured much of the American Midwest, looking for business opportunities. Eventually, he opened both a bakery and a confectionery shop.
His businesses were relatively successful, but Cretors wanted to offer a wider variety of treats. As a result, he purchased a peanut roaster and converted it so it could roast peanuts automatically and have a larger output.
This automated apparatus was driven by a steam engine. Before launching a full-scale operation, Cretors got a vendor’s license and used the machine outside his store. It was a success. He used it to make roasted peanuts and other snack food, like popcorn and chestnuts. And just like that, the popcorn machine was born!
After successful tests, J.M. Savage was hired as a salesman and sold this revolutionary popcorn machine around Chicago and the surrounding region. Eventually, Cretors got a patent for his machine and even took it to Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
Then Other Designs Arose for Home Use, Like the Stovetop Method
Charles Cretors’ design was hugely successful, and many machines sprouted up across America during this period. The idea caught on, and people sought new ways to conveniently eat popcorn at home.
This led to the development of the simple stovetop popcorn machine. Models like the Detonator Stovetop Popcorn Maker were incredibly popular and bought this fancy treat to the homes of thousands of people.
These stovetop models were metal saucepans with a lid and stirring mechanism. You would heat the popcorn kernels over a lit hob while stirring using the wooden handle and system.
Everything was contained inside, and there would be no mess when the kernels exploded due to the sturdy metal lid. This invention eventually led to an increase in home popcorn consumption and popcorn sales in America.
Here Comes the 1970s: The Boom of Hot-Air Popcorn Makers
In the 1970s, a new type of popcorn popper was created — this was another versatile device you could use at home. Of course, we are talking about the hot-air popcorn machine.
Appliances like this are still common today, although the design and efficiency have been improved. The principle is simple — parched corn kernels are placed into the container, and then hot air heats them and causes the explosion.
Compared to traditional designs like the one Cretors made, these hot-air appliances could pop popcorn uniformly but also had much less fat content. It was estimated that traditional methods created popcorn with a fat content of 45%, whereas modern hot-air appliances produced corn with just a 5% fat content.
While these popcorn machines were incredibly popular during the 70s, new technologies, like microwave popcorn, caused a decline in their usage.
And We Now Make Convenient Microwave Popcorn
Today, we have so many ways to choose from to make popcorn dance! Possibly the most common method today is via the microwave. You can buy a microwave popcorn bag from most supermarkets — just pop it in the microwave oven, and you’ve got delicious popcorn in no time!
However, for the traditionalist, you can still buy hot-air popcorn makers. Some traditional stovetop models are also available if you want an authentic experience. At fairgrounds and theme parks, you can find popcorn stands similar to the ones Cretors originally built – just without the attached mini steam engine!
Aside from making your own, there are bags of ready-made popcorn that you can buy. Some brands even have sumptuous toffee-flavoured popcorn.
It’s great that all these models are available and still in use, and we can enjoy popcorn however we want. For many, it will remain a favourite snack when going to the cinema or a show.
Hat’s Off to Charles Cretors for Being the First Mobile Popcorn Salesman!
Perhaps someone else would have invented a similar contraption at some point. But there is no denying that Charles Cretors paved the way for the popcorn machines we have today. His entrepreneurial genius and desire to grow his confectionary store ultimately gave us the popcorn maker — something that is still popular today.