Popcorn was very popular in the United States from the late 19th century through the middle of the 20th century. It was available in parks, from street vendors, and near theaters.
During World War II, when sugar was rationed, Americans changed their snacking habits—they ate three times as much popcorn as they had before. Perhaps the favorite place to eat popcorn was at the movies. When television took off in the 1950s, popcorn sales dropped for a while.
Today, the average American eats nearly 70 quarts of popcorn a year. But the United States isn’t just a land of popcorn lovers—it’s also the land of popcorn. Most of the world now gets its popcorn from Nebraska and Indiana.
The oldest popcorn ever found was discovered in the “Bat Cave” of central New Mexico. It is thought to be about 5,600 years old. In tombs in Peru, archaeologists found ancient kernels of popcorn that are so well preserved that they can still pop.
Europeans learned about popcorn from Native Americans. When Cortes invaded Mexico, and when Columbus arrived in the West Indies, each saw natives eating popcorn, as well as using it in necklaces and headdresses.
Native Americans brought a bag of popped corn to the first Thanksgiving. A common way to eat popcorn at that time was to hold an oiled ear on a stick over the fire, then chew the popped kernels off it. Natives throughout the Americas also made a popcorn beer. Some made popcorn soup.
After learning about the fluffy food, colonists began enjoying the first puffed breakfast cereal—a bowl of popcorn, served with cream or milk.