Although popcorn is still well loved today, its history dates back many centuries. It is believed that popcorn originated in Mexico. In 1948, the oldest ears of corn ever found were discovered in a bat cave in west central Mexico. Here, Cachise Indians dating back to 2,500 B.C., are thought to have grown and eaten popcorn. A funeral urn also found in Mexico from 300 A.D. shows a picture of a maize god with some form of primitive popcorn headdress. Popcorn kernels have also been found in tombs on the east coast of Peru, some of which still pop after 1,000 years. By the time Europeans began to settle in America, popcorn had spread to almost all Native American tribes. The English colonists were introduced to popcorn at the first Thanksgiving feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where one of the chief's brothers arrived with a goodwill gift of popped corn in a deerskin bag. After their introduction the colonists had the idea of eating popcorn with milk and sugar and so was born the breakfast cereal. At this point there were more than 700 varieties of popcorn.

When Columbus first arrived in the West Indies he found the natives both eating and using popcorn as decoration. After invading Mexico in 1519, Cortes discovered that popcorn was just as important to the Aztecs, who used it for decorating their ceremonial headdresses and necklaces, as well as for food.

One of the earliest ways to pop corn was to toast it over an open fire or even throw the cob directly into the fire until it began to pop. American Indians would pierce the centre of the cob with a sharp stick then spread oil over the corn and lay it near a fire, causing the kernel to pop. Another way was to use a clay or metal cooking pot containing oil held over a fire, much like today. But it wasn't until the 18th century, when popping in oil really began to take off, that the results and taste produced became far superior to that of toasted popcorn.

Recent Popcorn History

Popcorn was very popular from the 1890s until the Great Depression. Street vendors used to follow the crowds, pushing steam or gas-powered poppers through fairs, parks and expositions. At 5 or 10 cents a bag, popcorn was one of the few luxuries that poor Depression families could afford. While other businesses failed, the popcorn business thrived. An Oklahoma banker who went broke when his bank failed bought a popcorn machine and started a business in a small store near a theater. After a couple years, his popcorn business made enough money to buy back three of the farms he'd lost.

Popcorn sales slumped during the early 1950s when television became popular. Attendance at movie theaters dropped and, with it, popcorn consumption. When the public began eating popcorn at home, the new relationship between television and popcorn led to its resurgence in popularity.

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