It’s buttered, it’s salted, it’s plain but it’s always hot and delicious (or it should be) — but why do we all hanker for popcorn at the movies, and pop it when we watch at home? Popcorn itself has been around for nigh on 8,000 years since corn was first cultivated, but it’s been a movie theater staple for far less time.
The fantastic folks over at the Smithsonian’s Food & Think blog has an exhaustive history of popcorn — which is worth reading in full — but as far as the talking pictures are concerned, popcorn was a big no-no at the first theaters.
“Movie theaters wanted nothing to do with popcorn,” explains Andrew Smith, author of Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn, “because they were trying to duplicate what was done in real theaters. They had beautiful carpets and rugs and didn’t want popcorn being ground into it.”
Popcorn was basically the food of the streets, and as such, had no place in hoity toity movie theaters. Plus when there wasn’t sound playing during the days of silent films, the crunch of your neighbor is even more annoying.
Eventually movies added sound, and the movie theater industry started to broaden its horizons. When the Great Depression hit, audiences flooded movie theaters seeking an escape from the everyday blues. And there was popcorn, cheap, mobile and tasty. At first people would just walk in with their popcorn purchased on the street, despite the protestations of theater workers.
Movie theater owners finally bowed under the pressure from customers who were going to eat popcorn at the movies whether they liked it or not, and started allowing vendors to shill their snacks in the lobby of the street or right outside for a fee.
Things really kicked into high gear during World War II, as wartime rations severely limited the competition from other snacks that required sugar. By the time the war was over, popcorn was firmly entrenched in the hearts of movie lovers everywhere.
Once microwaves started popping up in homes later in the 20th century, popcorn was there to stake its claim as the proper snack companion to living room theaters as well.
As we mentioned, the whole story is pretty interesting and will probably make you yearn to go out to the lobby and get yourself some, so check it out in the source link below.
Why Do We Eat Popcorn at the Movies? [Food & Think]