Popcorn gains from Chicago Connections

By Caryl Clem:

Popcorn’s early history dates back to worshiping the Maize with popcorn adorned headdresses and rain gods.  Today’s mass consumption of this snack is a combination of ingenuity, determination and old fashioned hustling.  January 19th is National Popcorn day.

Early popping corn was risky, often greasy, or partially burned and inedible until Charles Cretors invented a steam popcorn machine wagon. He moved his family to Chicago in 1885 to expand his business.  During the Columbia World Exposition in 1893, fresh popcorn vendor wagons were introduced. C Cretors and Company of Chicago featured popcorn flavors that won instant approval. Charles previously sold peanuts before the popcorn venture, his recipe combined molasses, peanuts and popcorn. The cheery red wagon that popped fresh popcorn could be pulled by a boy or pony was open for business anywhere a crowd gathered.

Two German immigrant brothers were determined to obtain financial success in Chicago. After their first business burned to the ground that was located South Clinton Street in 1885, they rebuilt and expanded their business using wagon vendors.  Again the combination of popcorn, peanuts and molasses from a recipe they construed in 1871 became a staple of their success.  A box decorated by a patriotic sailor with a slang term meaning the best, “Cracker Jack” originated their popcorn snack.  The Chicago Tribune on March 8, 1896 featured an article proclaiming that to taste the Rueckheim Brothers popcorn would lead to an obsession, “Do Not Taste It,” read the ridiculous headline. “If you do, you will part with your money easy.”   Expanding the popularity of the product, jobbers went to grocers, drug stores and retail merchants to obtain orders.  By 1908 a song embracing the joy of baseball, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” quoted, “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack” cemented the bond between games and snacking.

As America fought two wars, sugar shortages narrowed the choices for snack treats. The Great Depression brought poverty to the majority. A bag of popcorn was between 5 and 10 cents, a luxury most could afford.  Farmers and vendors were able to make a meager living off popcorn.  Cracker Jack started offering prizes inside their boxes to corner the market.

Movie theaters were against serving food to prevent littering the atmosphere of richness and prosperity that dominated the early movie houses.  After the Great Depression, movie theaters struggled to survive.  In the 1930’s from Glen Dickson  manager of a theater in the Midwest area, Julia Braden in Kansas City, Mo.,  and R. J. McKenna in the west: all  saved their businesses by selling popcorn inside the theater to increase profit margins.  Now a movie is associated with the smell of buttery popcorn. Children’s movies and suspense dramas sold the most popcorn.

Since the microwave introduced popcorn in 1981, popcorn starts to dominate the fix at home snack market. Orville Redenbacher in 1965 is selling his popcorn out of his car as he travels to supermarkets across the Midwest.  Family cooks can make snack foods . Options to make your own popping corn are at your fingertips. Range or stove Popcorn is easy to make and offers many flavorful seasonings.

If you want to buy, the top selling brand today is Chicago’s own Garrett Popcorn ShopsChicago, ILThe Cretors family has modernized its market to open Cornfields, Inc.  a healthy snack manufacturer and producer of the G.H. Cretors and Hi I’m Skinny brands.

No matter what your choice, Chicago offers the best popcorn!

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