How Did Popcorn Become the Most Popular Movie Theater Snack?

Can you imagine going to the movie theater to watch the latest movie release without at least having a couple of handfuls of freshly popped popcorn? Or, at the very least taking in the wonderful scent as it wafts through lobby? This past Friday I went to a local movie theater to watch the movie Birds of Prey. My outing made me wonder how popcorn had come to be the universal staple for concession stands in cinemas.

Popcorn was hugely popular at fairs and carnivals in the mid-1800s. Street vendors were able to easily make and sell the delicious, aromatic snack food by the bag when the first steam-powered popcorn maker was created in 1885. However, movie theaters wanted to stay far, far away from the pungent, crunchy grub.

They wanted to associate themselves more with the theater. A real theater would refuse to be associated with food that would be noisily eaten and messily strewn about by consumers during showings. During the Great Depression Americans were looking for inexpensive entertainment that would allow them to escape reality if only for a little while. Movies became the perfect solution.

Theaters weren’t equipped to handle popcorn machines, independent vendors were quick to jump at the opportunity of selling directly to consumers.Corn kernels were cheap, so popcorn was inexpensive (ranging from five to ten cents a bag) and patrons who were not well-off could enjoy a bag of the goodness. Vendors began selling popcorn to people outside of the theater. The snack was everywhere. Soon, vendors could, for a small fee, sell popcorn in the lobby directly to people entering the theater.

Eventually movie theater owners began to cut out the street vendors and sell popcorn themselves. Theaters that refused to change with the times and have their own popcorn makers suffered, as the cheap snack became in-demand. Today popcorn can be found at just about any concession stand in the U.S.

My daily video blog below is a visit to a local dine-in movie theater to have dinner and watch the movie Birds of Prey.

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