The oldest ears of popcorn ever found were discovered in the Bat Cave (no, not the one in Gotham City) of west central New Mexico in 1948 and 1950. The Bat Cave ears are estimated to be 4,000 years old.
Popcorn was first “discovered” by Europeans when the explorer Hernán Cortéz de Monroy Pizaro invaded Mexico and came into contact with the Aztecs. The Aztecs said that the popped kernels were hailstones given to their god of water.
Popcorn was very popular in the U.S. from the 1890’s until the Great Depression. Street vendors used steam or gas-powered poppers to make popcorn at fairs, parks and expositions. During the Depression, a banker whose bank failed, bought a popcorn machine and made enough money to buy back 3 of farms he had lost.
During World War II, there was a shortage of sugar, which caused a shortage of candy. Americans ate three times as much popcorn.
The rise of television in the 1950’s caused a drop in movie attendance and, with it, popcorn consumption.
The microwave oven has been a boom to the popcorn industry. Today annual microwave popcorn sales in the U.S. have reached $240 million.
Americans today consume 16 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year.