Popcorn machines have been around for more than 4 000 years and have evolved considerably since. These machines now use electricity to heat oil or air to heat large batches of corn kernels at a time. You can even make popcorn in the microwave or over an open fire in convenient packages. The earliest machines, however, look nothing like they do now.
Primitive Popcorn Machines
When an ancient culture in New Mexico discovered that a certain type of corn would 'pop' when it was heated, they immediate designed the world's earliest version of the popcorn machine. They would heat fine sand in the fire and add the kernels into the sand to make them pop.
Other cultures of the time made a game of popping popcorn. They would heat stones on the fire as hot as they could and pour the seeds onto it. The people of the village would then gather around the stones and catch the grains as they popped and flew into the air.
Eventually, primitive popcorn poppers became more popular and the snack quickly became an important part of several cultures. Many 4th century Mexican cultures would include popcorn kernels inside their funeral urns as an offering to the spirits in order to secure a safe passage to the next life. Native American tribes that appeared years later believed that spirits lived inside the kernels. The natives thought that the kernels popped when the extreme heat would anger the spirits.
Years later, Native North American cultures created prehistoric popcorn machines as well. However, popcorn became a staple food rather than a treat. The Iroquois tribes would use heated pottery to cook the kernels and use them to create foods such as soup and an early variety of breakfast cereal. Others would boil animal fat and simply dip the cob into it to cook.
The Evolution Of Popcorn Machines
By the 17th century, popcorn had become a common sight in the household, and due to the increase in demand, the race was on to come up with an easier way to crack the corn husks. Blacksmiths started to make popcorn machines by fashioning metal cones out of flat iron. Then, they threaded a metal spit into the center of the contraption so that it could rotate over the fire to prevent the corn kernels from burning.
In 1885, Charles Cretors designed and created the first of a long line of popcorn machines in Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Cretors owned a sweet shop and had purchase a peanut roasting machine that didn't work as well as it should have. He soon altered the machine and began selling his products in and around the area via traveling salesmen as well as through his store. Eight years later, he attended the Chicago Columbian Exposition with his new machine and history was born.
Popcorn machines experienced widespread growth during the 1900s. Following his success at the Exposition in 1893, Charles Cretors mounted his corn popper onto a carriage creating the world's first mobile popcorn cart and made the world's first electric version a short time later. When it came to the actual selling of the machines, Fred Hoke and James Holcomb of Holcomb & Hoke Co beat Mr. Cretors to the punch in 1914. With prices ranging between $400 and $1300, these machines sold like hotcakes until the Great Depression caused the company to cease operations in 1934.
Today, popcorn machines look nothing like their earlier counterparts. They are available in virtually any size and create many different flavors and varieties of popcorn. The sleek and customizable machines are everywhere producing popcorn in mere minutes.
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