Why Do We Eat Popcorn at the Movies?
Finish this sentence: we go together like movies and ________.
For as long as anyone can remember, popcorn has been the snack of choice when going to the movies or watching at home. But where did the tradition come from? What is it about the salty, buttery snack that keeps us tuned in?
In Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America (yes, that exists), Andrew F. Smith explores America’s history with kernels and how popcorn secured its place as moviegoers' favorite snack. Ultimately, price, convenience, and timing made popcorn *pop* up in the United States.
Where Did Popcorn Come From?
Did you know: popcorn is not a name for only popped kernels. It also refers to the specific type of kernel. It was popularized in the U.S. in the mid 1800s after being brought over from Central America. Popcorn was made easy when the steam-powered popcorn maker was invented in 1885. This sparked popcorn makers to go into business as a fleet of independent businesspeople.
The snack blew up in America, and movie theaters adopted popcorn as their own because it was affordable to make and easy to serve. During the Great Depression, less expensive experiences like going to the movies and purchasing popcorn increased in popularity because larger luxuries were often off the table.
Despite some theatre owners finding the snack distracting, they eventually made deals with popcorn salesmen to allow them to sell outside the theatre for a cut of the profits. This didn’t last long, however, because by 1945 they cut out the middleman and opened concessions in the lobby of the theatres. During WWII, sugar rations haulted candy production, so Americans had to turn to a saltier snack. They began eating three times the amount of popcorn they previously consumed. The sales of popcorn and other movie snacks helped movie theatres profit in times of economic hardship and are likely a large contributor to why theatres are still operating today.