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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US Patent Number 1

Every year, the US Patent and Trademark Office issues thousands of patents. In fact, just last year they issued patent 11 million. Patents are an incredibly important part of the economy. They prevent anyone else from making, distributing, or selling an invention without permission for a set period of time. Inventors and innovators race to be the first to file a patent for new inventions. Patents are far older than most people think. The first patent recognized is from 1421. The government in Florence issued it for a new style barge. Patents are important enough that the Founding Fathers of the United States included patents in the Constitution. The Patent Office was created in 1790, and US Patent Number 1 was issued.

The First US Patent

The first US Patent was issued in 1790, not long after the US Patent and Trademark Office was created. George Washington signed the patent on July 31, 1790. A copy of the patent is below.

A copy of the First US Patent number 1.
A copy of the First US Patent number 1

The First US Patent was issued to Samuel Hopkins. He created a new recipe for potash. Potash is a mix of minerals and chemicals used in fertilizer. It’s pretty interesting that the first patent granted in the United States was for fertilizer. It highlights that the US was mainly agrarian when the country was first founded. Farmers are still using potash in their fertilizer to this day.

1790 had only 3 patents issued. The second patent, applied for by Joseph Sampson, was for a new way to manufacture candles. The last, applied for by Oliver Evans, was for an automated flour mill.

Despite how few patents were issued that first year, Americans are an inventive people and applications for patents quickly piled up. The young government placed all the records in temporary storage. A new records building was in the process of being built in 1836 to handle the mass of paperwork. The temporary storage caught on fire, destroying nearly all the records in one fell swoop.

The Second US Patent Number 1

With the original warehouse of documents gone, the US Patent and Trademark Office started a numbering system. The Office designated all patents before this point as X patents. You can see the X-number listed in the top right corner of the image above. So the US Patent and Trademark Office issued the “Second” first US Patent to John Ruggles. This is “US Patent Number 1”. Ruggles designed traction wheels for locomotives. The Office granted the patent to him on July 13, 1836. His wheels helped the train to keep traction in bad weather, rather than slipping on the rails.

Thankfully, recordkeeping is much more secure and there is little chance of Ruggles losing his US Patent Number 1 designation.

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Want to learn more about US inventions?

Check out our article on the Beer Can!

A Short History of Egg Painting

Decorating Easter eggs is an extremely popular Easter tradition. Every year, millions of families will dye, paint, or otherwise decorate eggs for Easter. Some families who don’t decorate eggs themselves will purchase pre-painted eggs, brightly colored plastics eggs, or help their kids hunt for eggs if the weather is nice enough. Little do most people know, that decorating eggs is a tradition that goes back to the very beginnings of human history.

Brightly colored easter eggs in a wicker basket
Painted eggs in a basket Ikonact, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Early Decorated Eggs

The oldest decorated eggs go all the way back to 55 to 65 thousand years ago. These eggs were found in South Africa. Archeologists believe that hunter-gatherers used ostrich eggs to carry water, as some tribes still do today. The ancient tribes marked the eggs with lines. Some eggs found had a cross-hatch pattern, others had wavy lines. Amazingly, some eggs show different colors than the normal ostrich’s white/yellow, so they may have painted the eggs as well! During the Bronze and Iron Ages, ostrich eggs were found as far away from Africa as Spain.

Most ancient cultures seem to have placed a special significance on eggs and, at times, decorating them. Ancient Egyptians believed in a great “cosmic egg.” Chinese and Indian myths both have creator beings born from eggs. Finnish mythology also has the world being created from fragments of an egg laid by a goldeneye. Other mythologies have restoration or creation myths involving eggs. So it can be easy to see how eggs are linked to Easter and the rebirth of Jesus.

Decorated eggs were also found in other regions of the world. Persians and Zoroastrians used decorated and painted eggs for Nowruz. Nowruz is the New Year in some parts of the world and is celebrated at the Spring Equinox. People in Eurasia still follow this tradition.

Painted Eggs and Easter

Painting eggs for Easter started with the Eastern Orthodox. Most egg decorating began well before Christianity. So it’s not surprising that those who already decorated the eggs around the time of Easter began incorporating them into their Easter celebrations. Ukrainian egg decoration, called pysanky, is very elaborate. These eggs are often given as gifts for health and fertility.

Pysanky painted eggs
Pysanky eggs Lubap Creator:Luba Petrusha, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The earliest record linking the painted eggs directly with Easter comes from the Middle Ages when England’s King Edward I ordered 450 eggs to be colored and given out to other royals. Eggs tended to be cheap and the practice caught on.

Easter egg hunts became popular in Germany in the 1600’s and spread across Europe. By the Victorian era, early fake eggs were being used.

Chocolate eggs started in the late 1800’s and the Industrial Revolution helped make mass-producing the candy possible. Now millions of chocolate eggs are distributed each year.

Egg Color Meanings

As eggs already symbolized life and rebirth, they fit in quite well with the story of Jesus’ resurrection. Certain colors quickly took on special meanings

Red was for the blood of Christ, Mary’s tears staining the eggs red, and the eggs next to Jesus’ tomb turning red.

White was for purity. Sometimes this is for the purity of the Virgin Mary. Other times it is for the lilies that grew in Easter lilies.

Black is for mourning and grief. This mainly relates to the crucifixion and death of Jesus.

Violet stands for royalty, as well as penance and sadness. This is to remind people of Jesus’ suffering.

Green is the color of life. For Easter, it means eternal life. Green also stands for spring and renewal.

Yellow tends to stand for happiness. It’s the color of joy. It’s also the color of sunshine. Gold stands for victory. Gold symbolizes the victory of life over death.

How Do You Decorate Easter Eggs?

There are many ways to decorate easter eggs. Some follow ancient traditions of blowing out eggs and using wax. Some hand-paint their eggs. Others go to the store and buy a kit. And others still use stickers.

There’s really no right or wrong way to decorate eggs- this tradition has been evolving for 60 thousand years! How do you and your family decorate eggs? Let us know in the comments below.

Want to Learn More?

Check out these websites!

Good Housekeeping goes into detail about the colors of Easter. Parade does as well!

Want to know more about ancient eggs?

Kitchn is a great resource that goes into more detail about Easter eggs.

The Library of Congress has a good overview of egg decorating.

Want to travel over the holiday? Why not see some historic lighthouses? Check out some historic New Jersey lighthouses!

5 Historic Lighthouses in New Jersey You Can Actually Visit!

While the Jersey Shore has been made famous by shows such as “Jersey Shore”, “Boardwalk Empire” and “MTV’s TRL”, the New Jersey coastline used to be infamous among sailors. Over a thousand shipwrecks litter the coast, sunk there by mariners who underestimated the dangers of the shoreline. New Jersey has two major port cities near it, New York City and Philadelphia. This led to a high volume of ship traffic around some of the most dangerous areas. The historic lighthouses along the New Jersey coast played a vital role in preventing shipwrecks.

As a result of the many deaths and shipwrecks, New Jersey had a high number of lighthouses. At the height of the lighthouse era, 38 were operating along the Jersey coast, with 6 additional lightships. These warned ships of dangerous areas and guided them safely onto the correct course.

Of the 38 lighthouses that once operated, 18 still remain. Not all of these are open for visits. But those that are open to the public are a great place to visit for a glimpse into the past. The historic lighthouses, all located in New Jersey, are well worth a visit.

Sandy Hook Lighthouse (Highlands, NJ 07732)

Picture of Historic Sandy Hook Lighthouse in New Jersey
Ccrabb1948, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Sandy Hook lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in the US! It was first lit on June 11, 1764. Isaac Conro designed and built the lighthouse about 500 feet from the shore. Today it stands about a mile and a half from the coastline. The lighthouse has been in continuous operation ever since. The only times it went dark were during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and both World Wars. It stands at 103 feet tall. Originally, the light was provided by 48 oil blazes. Now it uses a 3rd order Fresnel lens, installed in 1857. TOn October 15, 1966, the National Register of Historic Places added the Sandy Hook Lighthouse to its list.

Sandy Hook Lighthouse is on the grounds of Fort Hancock, which has a bunch of other interesting history on display. A lovely self-guided tour is available of the whole base. I highly recommend it, as it is almost completely flat and has about 40 stops that encompass the history of the base and the area around it.

The light still operates today. The National Park Service administers the lighthouse and offers tours on the weekends.

Cape May Lighthouse (Cape May, NJ 08204)

Picture of Historic Cape May Lighthouse in New Jersey
King of Hearts, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cape May Lighthouse is one of the most popular historic lighthouses in New Jersey, and certainly one of the most iconic. Built in 1859, this lighthouse overlooks both the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware River. This is actually the third lighthouse on this site. The ocean destroyed the first lighthouse when it flooded. The second lighthouse, poorly built, succumbed to erosion. The current lighthouse stands at 157 feet tall and is still in use today. Cape May’s lighthouse originally used a first-order Fresnel Lens, the largest available. Today it uses a rotating aerobeacon. National Register of Historic Places added the Cape May Lighthouse on November 12, 1973.

The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts currently is leasing the lighthouse and opened it to the public in 1988. You can visit the lighthouse and keepers station Friday through Saturday, 12-3 PM

Navesink Twin Lights (Highlands, NJ 07732)

Picture of Historic Twin Lights Lighthouse in New Jersey
Lbeaumont, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Navesink Twin Lights are the only lighthouses built in a fortress style within the United States. This alone makes these historic lighthouses well worth a trip. The original Twin Lights were built in 1828. Joseph Lederle built the second Twin Lights that stands today in 1868. The Twin Lights hold the honor of being the first US lighthouse to have a Fresnel lens installed. Fresnel lenses were much more effective at magnifying light and are still used in some places today. Fort Monmouth was involved with the Twin Lights, conducting secret experiments with radar. Keeping with this tradition, the Twin Lights was also a site for some of the earliest radio navigation experiments.

The Twin Lights ceased operations in 1954. Other navigational aids replaced the lights. The lights were converted into a museum after being rendered obsolete and deactivated. The National Register of Historic Places added the Twin Lights on December 2, 1970. The historic lighthouses are still imposing and an amazing landmark.

The grounds are always open to visitors. However, the museum is only open from Wednesday to Sunday, 10-4 PM. Tours are available from Wednesday to Saturday.

Hereford Inlet Lighthouse (North Wildwood, NJ 08260)

Picture of Historic Hereford Inlet Lighthouse in New Jersey
darlingtrk, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Lieutenant Colonial William Reynolds built the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse in 1873. Congress approved the building of the lighthouse mainly for smaller vessels and the steamers traveling around the mouth of the Delaware River.

On May 11, 1874, the light activated for the first time. The tower stands at 49 and 1/2 feet tall. Mariners can see the light for 13 miles. The lighthouse held church services in its early days. The first keeper, John Marche, died only three months into his service. He drowned when his boat capsized as he returned to the island. Due to some intense storms that actually moved the lighthouse off of its foundations, the structure was moved about 150 feet to the west, away from the waters that threatened it.

Like all other historic lighthouses in NJ, the Hereford Inlet light went dark during World War II when the Germans were operating off the Jersey Coast. It returned to service but was decommissioned in 1964, replaced by a metal skeletal structure. By 1982, the local lighthouse society petitioned for control of the lighthouse. They restored both the lighthouse and the amazing gardens that surround it. 1986 saw the light returned from the skeletal structure that housed it, back into the lighthouse proper. It’s been operating there ever since.

Originally equipped with a fourth-order Fresnel lens, the light is now a VRB-25 beacon, installed by the Coast Guard in 2018. The National Register of Historic Places added it on September 20, 1977

The Hereford Inlet Lighthouse grounds are open year-round for visits. The gardens are impressive and well worth the trip in spring and summer. The tour of the lighthouse is self-guided. You can visit the lighthouse between May and October between 9 to 5 PM

Sea Girt Lighthouse (Sea Girt, NJ 08750)

Picture ofLighthouse in New Jersey
King of Hearts, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Sea Girt Lighthouse is quite possibly my favorite lighthouse on this list. The funds for the Sea Girt Lighthouse were planned for 1889, but the lighthouse wasn’t built until 1896. As you can see from the photo above, it’s one of the few lighthouses that has the tower integrated into the keeper’s quarters. Sea Girt was the last lighthouse built in this style on the East coast. The light was first lit on December 10, 1896. The light was a fourth-order Fresnel lens, capable of being seen for 15 miles out to sea.

A radio beacon was installed in 1921. This allowed ships to navigate in poor conditions and heavy fog. Despite the success of the radio beacon, the transmitters were moved to the Barnegat Lightship and the Sea Girt radio beacon was decommissioned.

The Sea Girt Lighthouse played a role in the famous SS Morro Castle disaster. When the ship caught fire on September 8, 1936, it used the lighthouse to fix its position. It also helped the survivors find the shore as they tried to survive the rough seas. As rescuers braved the storm to find survivors, the lighthouse served as a first aid station.

The light went dark with the outbreak of WWII. After the war was over, the lighthouse returned to operation for roughly a decade. 1955 saw the light decommissioned. The Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee saved and restored the lighthouse in 1981.

Tours are available every Sunday from 2 – 4 PM, from mid-April to Thanksgiving.

Want to Learn More?

Below are some of the awesome sources I used to help put this list together. (Note, the book links are affiliate links, so if you purchase the books I will get a small percentage of the sale. I will never link a book I haven’t purchased and read myself first.)

The National Park Service keeps up the Sandy Hook Lighthouse informational site- See the site here!

The Twin Lights Museum was an excellent resource- check them out here!

The Cape May Lighthouse website doesn’t have a lot of information about the lighthouse but has a lot of cool events listed throughout the year. Check out the calendar!

Hereford Inlet Lighthouse’s website is full of information. Definitely check this one out!

Sea Girt has a wonderful website as well! See it here!

Want some more cool New Jersey History? Did you know that NJ had the first canned beer?