Resource of the Week-Theban Mapping Project

It may have taken a while, but I’m back for weekly updates on interesting websites and resources! There is just way too much history for me to cover here on Secretly Historic, so I like to give a shout-out to other people compiling history. This can range from a website, a social media page, or books! This week I’ve found a great website for those interested in Ancient Egypt, particularly the tombs.

The Theban Mapping Project is an amazing resource for anyone looking for more information regarding the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. They’ve been working on this for nearly thirty years, so you know there is a ton of information here.

Tim Adams, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Theban Mapping Project

The Mapping Project started over 30 years ago. It’s run by the American Research Center in Egypt and the American University in Cairo. The original intent of the project was to document the conditions of the tombs located in the Valley of the Kings, and work on plans to maintain these valuable sites. Over time, this has evolved to not only sharing information with the public but also helping to enhance the experience of those who visit the area.

On the website, you can view the Maps, Plans, and Sections of the tombs. The .pdf maps are incredible and gave me a better sense of the space in the tombs. They’re great for getting an idea of how the tomb and each section fit together. Each tomb has additional information about each section on the 3-D rendering. They list the condition of the tomb, the history of the discovery of each tomb, and any known information about those that inhabited it.

cattan2011, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

More Than Just Maps

There are 68 tombs listed, but there are far more than just maps of each tomb! The Theban Mapping Project also boasts over 3,000 pictures of the tombs. These pictures are of both the insides and outsides of the tombs. Honestly, these pictures are awesome and well worth a look. Even a layperson can appreciate the beauty found within these ancient tombs.

The Center and University have also put together an impressive >1,500-article bibliography for those who want to learn more or see the original research. This list is invaluable to any student or researcher looking for more information.

They’ve dedicated the last two sections of the site to articles and a very well-done timeline of ancient Egypt. The articles I’ve read here are informative and well-written. They’re not too heavy on the academic jargon in these articles, making them an easy read for those not in academia. The timeline they put together spans from the earliest traceable human habitation until 641 AD, the beginning of the Islamic period in Egypt.

Conclusion

Even if you have only a passing interest in Ancient Egypt, the Theban Mapping Project is well worth a look. It has enough information and resources to keep researchers and students busy but is presented in such a way that even those with no knowledge of archeology or ancient history can enjoy. If you’d like to visit the website, you can use the link at the beginning of this post or click HERE.

Want to read more about History? Check out these articles:

Ben Franklins’ Glass Armonica

Strange Inventions-Chicken Glasses

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Strange Inventions-Chicken Glasses

A chicken wearing glasses. It almost sounds like a new meme, but this particular image goes back to 1903 and Andrew Jackson Jr., who was likely not related to the much more well-known President Andrew Jackson. Mr. Jackson, of Munich Tennessee, was the first to file a patent for chicken glasses, and his basic design was used for well over 70 years in farms across the world. But why in the world did chickens need glasses?

The Inquirer
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
04 Feb 1911, Sat  •  Page 2

Chickens need glasses?

As it turns out yes, but not for the same reason as we humans need glasses. Glasses for chickens are more like safety glasses than vision correction glasses. Chickens, as it turns out, can be incredibly violent toward one another, especially in crowded conditions. They can become cannibalistic, especially when stressed. Once one chicken pecks at another and blood is drawn, it can cause a frenzy. The eyes are a particularly vulnerable spot, so in 1903 Andrew Jackson Jr filed patent 730,918 for “Eye Protector for Chickens”. These were, in essence, little protective glasses for chickens. Here’s an image from the patent filing:

These were basic glasses that simply covered the eyes and prevented pecks from damaging or ruining the chicken’s eyes. They were amazingly popular and were sold at chicken feed stores and in the Sears Roebuck catalog, proving that at one point, you could buy just about anything from a catalog. Other versions of these began to pop up, with some held on by straps, instead of a wire frame. Others used small hooks into the nostrils of the chicken, and several inhumane varieties were held on by a pin that had to piece the bone between the nostrils.

Tinted glasses also became popular. It was found that rose-colored lenses would help block out any blood spilled. If the chickens couldn’t see the blood, they couldn’t go into a frenzy. Some firms created lenses that would hang over the eyes until a chicken lowered their head. Once the checked dropped its head, the lenses swung out of the way. Then they could see the ground with no color tinting. If they raised their head, the lenses dropped, and the rose-colored glasses would help them ignore any blood.

Different Varieties

Chicken glasses, Chicken Spectacles, Anti-Pix, or any other of the many names these were called, were sold until the late 1970s. Blinders were also a popular choice, invented in 1935. Rather than protecting the eye and preventing the chicken from seeing blood, these blinders stopped the chicken from seeing directly in front of them. This stops them from being able to look straight ahead to peck at another chicken. It also helps prevent feather picking and egg eating!

CLIPPED FROM
Austin American-Statesman
Austin, Texas
03 Aug 1986, Sun  •  Page 77

While chicken glasses fell out of favor, chicken blinders remain popular to this day. They are available not only in farm stores, but also Amazon. The glasses themselves actually became quite the collector’s item! They can be sold for over $100. Not bad for a pair of chicken specs.

Want to Read More About Strange Inventions?

Check out our article on the Glass Armonica! Or, if you like horrifying history, check out the Birthing Spinner!

Ben Franklins’ Glass Armonica

Benjamin Franklin was a man of many inventions. He invented the bifocal glasses, his famous wood-burning stove, is credited with the creation of the modern library and fire department, and many others. Most of his inventions were useful and welcomed by the public. All but one.

The Glass Armonica

The Glass Armonica is a unique instrument. A number of glass bowls are mounted horizontally on an iron rod, separated by cork plugs. The musician plays the instrument by wetting his fingers, then using foot pedals to make the bowls rotate on the rod. They would then lightly touch the rims of the bowls to produce the notes.

Have you ever run your fingers over the rim of a glass of water? If so, you’ve heard the pleasing hum that it can make. The level of water in the glass will change the note produced. The Glass Armonica works the same way. In the picture below, you can see that the bowls are all different sizes- this allows them to produce different notes. When Ben Franklin first invented the Glass Armonica in 1761 it was wildly successful. By the mid-1800’s, it had almost completely vanished. So what happened?

Vince Flango, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Birth of the Glass Armonica

Ben Franklin didn’t come up with his new instrument in a vacuum. The “signing glass” artist Edward Delaval in Cambridge delighted and inspired him into creating the instrument.

Robert Pockrich, an Irish musician, invented the original “music glasses” in 1741. Pockrish would run his fingers over glasses filled with varying levels of water, covering popular songs at the time. He toured Ireland and England. The “angelic organ”, as he called it, was a popular act. Other musicians adopted the glasses and they spread across Europe.

Ben Franklin was often in Europe in the 1700s, acting as a delegate for the newly formed United States. In 1761, twenty years after the singing glasses made their debut, Franklin attended a performance by Edward Delaval in Cambridge. He fell in love with the tones of the glasses, believing them to be sweeter than any other instrument.

In London, Franklin worked with a glassblower to design the instrument. By 1762, they had completed it. There were 37 individual bowls, each marked with a color that corresponded with a note. It didn’t need to be tuned and was relatively easy to play. Ten notes could be played at once, allowing for amazing creativity with chords. This made it popular, and although it was considered a feminine instrument, composers such as Mozart and Beethoven wrote pieces using the Glass Armonica.

Producers of the instrument made about 5,000 of them before rumors, scandal, and controversy halted production.

ReservoirHill or Hugh Pickens, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Scandals

Despite the Glass Armonica’s explosive popularity, scandal quickly began to taint its reputation. Firstly, the instrument has an otherworldly tone to it. Beautiful though it is, it can create an unsettled feeling in those listening to it. In the 19th century people were highly superstitous, and these unsettled feeling would not have been ignored. Rumor had it that the instrument could be used to summon the spirits of the dead and damned. Magic could be performed through it, and players could cause their listeners to later commit suicide.

Secondly, reports started to circulate that the players of the Glass Armonica were falling ill. They would shake, faint, have panic attacks, depression, and muscle cramps. Lead was the main material used to color the bowls, and it was suspected that this may have caused the illnesses. Muscians who played the Glass Armonica may have been prone to lead poisoning, especially since lead was so prevalent in the 19th century. In 1808, Marianne Kirchgessner, a noted player of the Glass Armonica died. Rumor and gossip named the instrument as the cause of her death. Its unearthly tones and lead paint killed her, went the whispers. Understandably, people began to shy away from learning to play it.

Finally, tragedy struck during a concert. A young boy died during a concert where the Glass Armonica was played. Several of the surrounding towns immediately banned the Glass Armonica from being played. With the death of the child, the popularity of the Glass Armonica died as well. Compsitions written for the instrument were rewritten for the flute or piccolo. Few people were brave enough to learn how to play the instrument, and fewer still were brave enough to listen to it.

The Comeback

Ben Franklin never believed any of the unsubstantiated rumors about his instrument. He played until his death. Like with many of his inventions, Franklin made no money from the instrument. He filed no patent, and allowed anyone to produce a Glass Armonica if they wished.

From the 1820’s until the 1980’s, Franklin’s Glass Armonica was mostly forgotten. It was used in Star Trek as a part of Spock’s Theme, as well as in the movies The Minus Man and The Faculty. Some bands, such as the Korn, also used the Glass Armonica in some of their songs.

While it will likely never reach the height of popularity, the Glass Armonica is slowly beginning to be used again. If you are brave enough, listen to composer William Zeitler explain and play it in the video below:

Want to Read More?

Check out these articles!

Ben Franklin’s Killer Instrument: The Glass Armonica

Benjamin Franklin Invented The Worlds Most Dangerous Instrument

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN’S GLASS ARMONICA

Want to Read More from Me?

Check out:

Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters

Mansfield Bars

Horrifying History: The Birthing Spinner

30,000-Year-Old Indigenous Art Destroyed by Vandals

In Southern Australia, trespassers forcibly entered the Koonalda Cave, and destroyed irreplaceable sacred images. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the vandals dug under the gate. They etched the phrase “Don’t look now, but this is a death cave” into the soft limestone walls, destroying the indigenous art beneath.

It’s believed that this may be a planned act of vandalism. The cave is several hours from most populated areas. The site is also dark and complex.

In doing so, they destroyed some of the oldest rock art in Australia, desecrating a site sacred to the Mirning People. The Koonalda Cave is sacred to the Mirning People, where only male elders are permitted to enter. The cave is where they go to connect to their ancestors.

An example of ave art from the Manda Guéli Cave in Chad
David Stanley from Nanaimo, Canada, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Common

The Mirning People have been requesting additional security at the Koonalda cave for some time, as people have been visiting the cave without contacting the tribal elders for permission. Unfortunately, their requests have not been acted on by the Australian government.

As the damage was done in the soft limestone, it is impossible to restore. The indigenous art destroyed cannot be fixed. The vandals have not been caught but could face a $10,000 ($6,700) fine and up to six months in prison.

Unfortunately, indigenous art is being destroyed in other places as well, and not only by humans. Climate change is destroying sacred sites throughout Australia.

Australia is not the only country struggling with preservation. A US man was charged with destroying a Latinow rock carving in South Dakota. In Africa, groups are attempting to protect rock art from not only vandalism but war.

Some groups are treating ancient rock art to last longer, while other groups are focusing on protecting the sites. Other groups are taking the art most at risk and attempting to move it to museums. With any luck, these groups will succeed and the remaining art will not be lost forever.

To learn more about the damage at the Koonalda Cave, you can visit Hyperallergic’s article.

Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters

I have a truly ridiculous amount of history books on my shelf that I haven’t managed to get around to reading yet. To be fair, I also have a ridiculous amount of books. I’m told this is a common affliction and that I don’t need to worry about it being serious. However, I want to get that “not read yet” shelf down to a more manageable size. So I’m setting myself a goal- one book a month. Each month I’ll read one of my unread books and write up a review here about said book. Should be easy enough, right? Any links to the books are affiliate links, and I’ll receive a small payment for any books you purchase through the links.

Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters.

Nuclear symbol

June’s book was Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters by Serhii Plokhy. As it says right in the title, Serhii Plokhy takes a close look at six of the world’s largest nuclear disasters. Plokhy is an extraordinary author. He’s well established as a historian. Currently, he is a professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard, where he also serves as director of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. This isn’t his first time looking at nuclear disasters either. He’s written at least two other manuscripts about nuclear history. Plokhy is one of the gifted historians who can not only research, but write his findings in such a way that the public reads and enjoys his writing. I know I thoroughly enjoyed Atoms and Ashes, and I’m certainly going to purchase more of Plokhy’s works.

The Disasters

Plokhy separates his books by diaster. There are six that are examined. They are The Castle Bravo disaster, Kyshtym, Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chornobyl, and Fukushima. Personally, I was amazed at the depth of research Plokhy was able to pack into each section. Plokhy was able to maintain this level of research even for the Soviet-era disasters. This is despite the Soviet penchant for secrecy regarding the nuclear programs.

Plokhy does a deep dive into the history of each disaster. Not just the actual event, but the history of the area, facility, personnel, etc. He touches on political, societal, cultural, and historical influences that may have contributed to the events. This does make for a long read, but Plokhy is able to tie it all together in a way that’s easy to understand and digest. He doesn’t shy away from the human element, either. In some cases, he shows exactly what the people on the scene were seeing, hearing and feeling. With the Three Mile Island section, the confusion and terror felt by those in the surrounding area were made extremely clear. In the last section, on the Fukushima disaster, you could tangibly feel the helplessness and frustration of the Prime Minister and his team, as well as the utter terror and resolve of those at the plant.

Fukushima Plant after the disaster.
Digital Globe, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Science

I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in some scientific history manuscripts where the authors shy away a bit from the science. Plokhy happily avoids this. It’s easy to tell that he has a solid grasp of nuclear mechanics. Thankfully, he also realizes that most people do not have a good grasp of nuclear mechanics. He weaves the science into the history, explaining as he goes along what went wrong and why. He compares reactor types, fuel and coolant considerations, and much more. I’ve never had a great understanding of physics and chemistry, but Plohky manages to make it easy enough that the non-science types will realize not just what happened, but how dangerous it could have been.

In the Prologue, Plokhy goes over the various measurements used to measure radiation. The one thing I would change is the measure systems Plokhy uses. He uses the measurement systems used at the time of each event, rather than standardizing the units across the book. I kept having to flip back to the Prologue to check the measurements.

The Politics

Nuclear power is fundamentally a political issue. There are those who are for nuclear power as a green solution to climate change. There are those that are against nuclear power because of the danger. Plokhy tries, and mainly succeeds in keeping his opinions and current politics to the prologue and closing. He does seem to be against nuclear power, and after reading about the various problems and events, I’m inclined to agree.

The one common thread in every disaster is the human element. In many of the disasters, the systems worked exactly as designed- but due to human error or misunderstanding, the reactions went critical. Its these human errors that are the most terrifying part of the book. The best systems in the world were unable to prevent some of the worst disasters possible. Undertraining, greed, corners cut due to budgets, and incompetent operators are perhaps the true horror Plokhy points out. Radiation is a common fear, as is the possible explosive power of a plant in the middle of a meltdown. But the human element that can never be completely erased from any scenario, is the actual terror hiding behind each of the disasters.

My Recommendation

If it isn’t clear from the abundant praise above, I highly recommend this book. I would not recommend this book for those who are sensitive to disaster scenarios or have a phobia of radiation/nuclear. This was an intense but enjoyable read. Not really beach book material, but perhaps a long weekend read.

Want a copy? Check out the book on Amazon! Link below not showing up? Click here!

Want some more Horrifying History?

Check out our article on the Birthing Spinner! Women everywhere are quite glad that this birthing technique never caught on….

Mansfield Bars

Mansfield Bars are an incredible, yet simple safety device added to tractor-trailers. I can guarantee you’ve seen them. If you’ve seen a tractor-trailer, then you’ve seen one of the most important safety innovations made to trailers. So, what is a Mansfield Bar, and what exactly makes them historical?

What is a Mansfield Bar?

Attribution:  Mike Mozart via Flickr. Red circle added by me. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/38823760262/in/photostream/

Simply put, a Mansfield bar is a large metal bar added to the back of a trailer. They’re also called underride bars or underride guards. Many have red and white paint, although I have seen them without the paint as well. While these look like a handy way to climb up into the trailer, they are actually an incredibly important safety feature.

These bars help stop cars from sliding under the trailer during a crash. If a car rear-ends a trailer without these, there is a high chance the car will be crushed under the trailer. The car will sustain much more damage. And as the bottom of the trailers are right at head height, there’s a much higher chance of dying.

The Mansfield bar catches the car before it can go under the trailer, preventing the cabin of the car from being crushed by the bottom of the trailer. In an era where rear-end accidents are on the rise due to distracted driving, these bars have likely saved hundreds of lives.

Why are they called Mansfield bars?

Before 1967, you may not have seen underride protection. Previously in 1953, the federal government mandated the use of underride guards. However, this legislation had no rules about the strength of the guards, how they were to be attached, or how much kinetic energy they had to absorb.

That began to change on June 29th, 1967. Jayne Mansfield, an up and coming actress, was quickly becoming the darling of Hollywood. She woul never get the chance to be remembered for her acting skills.

Mansfield, her lawyer, driver, and children were driving in New Orleans. It was late and dark. A semi had slowed down on US 90 in reaction to a cloud of mosquito fog. The driver didn’t see the semi, slamming the Buick into the rear of the truck. The Buick slid under the trailer, crushing the cabin. Jayne Mansfield, her lawyer, and her driver were all killed. Her children survived the crash through luck. They had been laying down, asleep, in the rear. As they were not sitting up, they were not crushed. The children were injured and rushed to the hospital. Two of her four dogs were killed as well.

The crash was described as “horrific” by witnesses. The actress was described as “decapitated” but this was refuted by later reports. In actuality, she suffered a shearing injury to her head, causing more of a partial decapitation.

Lake Charles American-Press June 29, 1967

Her death was a shock to the nation. She was being groomed as a counter to Marilyn Monroe. Her grisly death did help spur on greater safety regulations for tractor-trailers. Not long after her death were the underride guards mandated by the government. But that’s not quite the end of the story.

The Story Continues

Despite the mandate for underride guards, many of the Mansfield bars were largely worthless. They were apt to crumble when hit. This made them not nearly as effective as they should have been. They were also not that effective when part of the rear is involved. In 1998, additional rules were put in place. These involved how strong the bars must be and standardized the measurements of the guards.

The IIHS, (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) noticed this in the early 2010’s and began to push for improved safety. They recommended again strengthening the bars and designing ways to ensure the safety of car drivers in low speed crashes and in crashes where the car does not hit the rear dead on.   In 2017 the IIHS started to award the manufacturers for enhancing the safety of these bars.

Others are still not satisfied with underride safety. 2017 also saw the revival of a push for complete underride protection. This would involve side guards as well as the now-standard rear guard.

In 2021, a bill was put before Congress to require side underride guards. This is the third time such a bill was written to mandate the side under guards. The bill is still working its way toward being passed.

As someone who spends thousands of miles on the road each year, additional safety measures are very welcome. With any luck, we won’t need to wait for a celebrity to be killed before new measures are put in place.

Want to Read More about Innovation?

Check out our post on US Patent Number One!

Horrifying History: The Birthing Spinner

Throughout history, there have been some inventions that are just plain horrifying. Some of these made it to production and were actually sold and used. Others, thankfully, never really saw the light of day. The “Birthing Spinner” is one that never went into production, and I’m sure that every woman will thank god for that.

The “Apparatus for Facilitating the Birth of a Child by Centrifugal Force“, patent US3216423A, was filed in 1963 by George and Charlotte Blonsky. It was supposed to be a device to help aid in the birthing process. Instead, it seems to be more of a medieval torture device.

How It’s Supposed to Work

Blonsky’s work is based far more on physics than on actual biology. The premise is this: A woman in labor may not have enough muscle to actually give birth to the child. So to help support the mother and push the baby out of her, Blonsky turns to centrifugal force. A mother in labor is strapped to a large rotating table and a mesh net strapped to her waist. Her head would be near the center of the table. As the machine spins, the centrifugal force would place additional force on the baby in the birth canal, forcing the child out faster and with less strain on the mother. No personnel were allowed near the table while it was spinning. So the net, having been strapped in place, was supposed to catch the baby.

Once born and in the net, the weight of the baby would trigger a bell and activate a lever to stop the motion of the table.

A drawing of the invention from the patent. This does NOT look comfy. At all.

Thank God the Birthing Spinner Never was Used

This is horrifying on several layers. A woman, in labor, is supposed to be strapped down onto a table to be spun around until the baby pops out. She’s basically on her own on the table. Remember that no personnel are allowed near while the table is spinning. So there is no doctor or midwife monitoring the mother or child. Then the baby pops out, into a bag, a bell rings, and the table stops. The doctor can raise or lower the table for the “optimum angle” of birth. Personally, I’d be terrified of ever giving birth if that’s how it’s supposed to go.

At the end of the patent, Blonsky mentions that “the supplementary forces supplied by the patient are zero either because she is too weak to render any assistance at all, or has lost consciousness.”

There is one good thing about this invention. A pillow is provided for the expectant mother.

Strangely enough, George and Charlotte Blonsky never had any children. I wonder why?

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Final Call- Last Public Payphone Removed in NYC

It’s the end of an era. On Monday, May 23, the last public payphone was removed from its home in Times Square. The removal was in the works for quite a while now. In 2015, New York City began removing public payphone booths. They’re being replaced with LinkNYC kiosks, which offer free public Wi-Fi, charging ports, 911 buttons, and screens with maps and other services. Just like the old payphones, they help generate revenue for the city. So far, over 6,000 payphones have been removed, with the one in Times Square being the last standard public payphone.

John-Paul Joseph Henry jiphenry, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

No more will Superman be able to bound into a payphone booth to quickly change outfits, at least in New York. However, the city is keeping four full length “Superman” booths in the Upper West Side, so perhaps Superman doesn’t need to worry too much. Payphones aren’t completely gone from the city. Those that are on private property or privately operated may still be standing. Rumor has it that some of the phones in the subway stations still work as well.

Where is the Last Public Payphone Going?

Thankfully this is not the final end for this pre-digital relic. The Museum of the City of New York has opened an exhibit called “Analog City.” While I haven’t had a chance to check it out, this exhibit looks to be chock full of nostalgia. The payphone that was removed on Monday will be finding new life as a part of this exhibit. The exhibit looks at the city before the digital era, specifically between 1870 and 1970. It opened this past Friday, and is already quite popular. You can read the museum’s description of the exhibition here

What about Other Payphones?

Payphones across the US have been disappearing for decades. In 1999, there were over 2 million payphones scattered across the US. As of 2018, a bare 100,000 were estimated to still exist. Payphones as a whole have had a short life. The first payphone, created by William Gray and George Long, was installed in Connecticut in 1889. By 1902 there were over 80,000 payphones. 1995 saw the peak of the payphone business, with an estimated 2.6 million across the nation. Just a short 6 years later, companies began leaving the payphone business and payphones began to fall out of use.

Even famous payphones weren’t immune. The Mojave Phone Booth, made famous by Godfrey Daniels, was destroyed in 2000. (But if you still want the magic of the Mojave Phone Booth, you can still call the number.)

Amazingly enough, you can still purchase a payphone if you would want one! Payphone.com, based in Houston TX, is still providing payphones. There are pushes to save and conserve public payphones, and some states, like Indiana, will let you request a payphone be installed if there is a “Compelling Public Need”.

Perhaps all is not yet lost for the remaining 100,000 payphones in the US, although time is nearly up for those in NYC

Popcorn History

Freshly popped and buttered popcorn is practically synonymous with movies. When you think of going to the movies, one of the first things that pops into your head is popcorn. If you’re like me, you may consider going to the movies just to get that authentic movie theatre popcorn. While the marriage of popcorn and the movies is somewhat recent, popcorn is much older than you would think! Popcorn has a long history. People have been enjoying popcorn for well over a thousand years.

Popcorn- more history than you would think
Modern popcorn, popped and buttered
Logicaldisaster~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

The First Popcorn

Popcorn is definitely an American invention. While corn is a staple of many diets now, it was completely unknown outside of the America’s before Columbus accidentally discovered the western continents. Europeans didn’t have corn until well after trade was established with the Native Americans. Corn, and by extension popcorn, had a history with Native Americans that goes back thousands of years.

The oldest ears of popcorn are over 6,000 years old! Archeologists believe that some of the first uses of wild corn was popping. Researchers in Peru found corn cobs stuffed with flowery popped kernels in 2012. Previously researchers thought popped corn was bout 4,000 years old. This was based on small cobs found in Western Mexico.

Popcorn was an important part of the Native American diet. Aztecs used popcorn in important rituals. They also dressed statues of the gods with jewelry adorned with popcorn.

Other people in the Americas relied on popcorn. Researchers throughout Central and South America have found evidence of popcorn consumption. Even within North America, tribes from current day Mexico as far north as the Iroquois near the Great Lakes enjoyed popped corn! French explorers had their first taste of popcorn when they traded with the Iroquois to get through the harsh winters. Colonists to the New World quickly became dependent on corn, and by extension popcorn.

Modern Popcorn

Popcorn was originally not quite as tasty as it is today. It was smaller and had a more “parchment” like feel and taste. As different types of corn developed, new varieties were made to improve popcorn. Households would pop their own corn over a flame- no popcorn machines had been invented yet. That would change in 1885. Charles Cretors created the first commercial popcorn machine. It was on wheels and used a gas burner. He took the cart out onto the streets of Chicago, popping and selling corn to passers. His popcorn was an instant hit.

People quickly started to purchase the carts as well as the popcorn. They started setting up outside movie theatres, at fairs, and anywhere people would gather. Movie theatres originally refused to sell popcorn. Popcorn wasn’t sold inside the theatres at first. People considered popcorn too messy. That mindset didn’t last too long. Movie theatres that sold popcorn saw far more business. During the Great Depression, it was one of the few snacks that was still affordable.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e2/Cinema_popcorn_bucket.jpg

Sugar became heavily rationed during World War II. Candy was off the table for many Americans as prices skyrocketed. Despite this, popcorn was still affordable. It didn’t use any sugar and popcorn consumption tripled during the war.

Microwavable Popcorn

Popcorn was immensely popular during the war, but by 1950 people were staying home to watch their brand new TVs. With the advent of television, movie theatres began to lose customers. As they lost customers, so did popcorn begin to lose popularity.

Thankfully, popcorn wasn’t about to be left to the history books. Percy Spencer discovered how to generate microwaves in the 1940’s and began to work on microwave ovens soon after. By the 1980’s, microwave ovens had taken off in popularity. The popcorn industry quickly adapted. 1981 saw the first microwavable popcorn. Refrigeration was required as it had actual better. Other versions came frozen instead. By 1984 a shelf-stable version was created. Americans bought $250 million worth of popcorn by 1986.

Orville Redenbacher created the popcorn we’re familiar with today. An agricultural scientist by trade, his popcorn expanded twice as much as any on the market.

Today, people are more inventive with their popcorn. Many different seasonings and additives are available so you can mimic whatever flavor you’d like with your popcorn. Personally, I’m a fan of the regular old-school movie theatre butter popcorn.

What’s your favorite popcorn flavor? Have any ideas for our next article? Let us know in the comments!

Want to read more?

Want to read more about popcorn history? Check out the websites below!

https://www.thespruceeats.com/the-history-of-popcorn-1328768

https://www.popcorn.org/All-About-Popcorn/History-of-Popcorn

https://www.seriouseats.com/popcorn-history-movie-theaters– This one is by far the most comprehensive.

Interested in food history?

Then you should definitely check out our article on the first beer can! Canning beer is way harder than you would think, and it wasn’t until the 1930’s that we managed it!

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Cool Website of the Week! May 15 2022

Every week I like to post an interesting history website. Because honestly, there is a whole heck of a lot of history and only one of me. Not to mention that there are a multitude of really cool websites out there that just don’t get enough love. Sometimes these are amazing resources lovingly curated over decades. Other sites show a new way of looking at history. Some sites show the parts of history that are almost never seen. This week’s website definitely falls in the third category. The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things is definitely both of those things. It’s both interesting, and ridiculous.

The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

This website is awesome for those who have a love for the weird. Think about how strange people are today. People were just as weird, if not weirder in the past. Dr. Chelsea Nichols, the creator and main writer on this site, shares her love of the strange and wonderful world of curiosities. This is a side of history that is rarely if ever, taught about in school. Dr. Nichols originally started the site in 2011 and relaunched it in 2019.

Ever see some vintage ads for leeches? Do you know the importance of Marie Antoinette’s lost shoe? Want to see a witch in a bottle? This site is absolutely for you. I was supposed to be working on this week’s other posts but ended up spending about an hour looking through this virtual museum. My personal favorite was “The Nun’s Backside”, which had me laughing for a good few minutes.

If you happen to have a half-hour and a love of the peculiar, I’d definitely take a look at the Museum of the Ridiculously Interesting.

Is the link above not working? Try here:

https://ridiculouslyinteresting.com/

Want to read about more history? Check out our article on the Mechanical Pencil!