Let it be said: the presence and tasting of popcorn in the cinema has been part, for years (and to the great despair of some as well…), of the ritual of dark rooms. But when did this guilty pleasure become unavoidable?
Imagine that this Wednesday, January 19, is International Popcorn Day! Yes, there are definitely international days for almost everything and anything. If we ignore the how and why of this day, it is on the other hand a good excuse to ask a real and good question: since when did popcorn become essential in dark rooms?
Because let’s face it: we’ve all had this guilty pleasure at least once. Treat yourself to a cone or even a bucket of salty / sweet popcorn, tasted in handfuls during commercials and / or during the screening of the film. Sometimes, it must be said too, to the great despair of our neighbor in front / behind / on the side (s) (cross out the unnecessary mentions).
Ironically enough, this remains a distant memory for now, given the government’s current ban on the consumption of food and drink in cinemas and theatres.since January 3…
The joys of the traveling cart
The origin of its presence in cinemas is to be found on the side of the United States. As early as 1848, in fact, the year the word “popcorn” entered the Dictionary of Americanisms by historian JR Bartlett. In 1893, a certain Charles Cretors, owner of a confectionery in Decatur, Illinois, developed an astonishing traveling cart placed in front of his shop, capable of steaming corn kernels transformed into popcorn, for the most great joy for the children who do not lose a crumb while admiring the transformation of the corn in the glass box.
That same year, his machine was presented at the Chicago World’s Fair. A businessman buys the license for the whole country, quickly flooded by this fantastic, easily movable machine. This is how it naturally finds its place around circuses, sporting events and other fairgrounds.
When the first cinemas appear, the street vendors put themselves in front of them. Before buying a ticket to Nickelodeon (small neighborhood cinemas) at 5 cents, the public can also buy a cone of hot popcorn for about the same amount, the smell of which pleases the nostrils. However, there is no question that these delicacies will penetrate the lair of the very luxurious cinemas built at the very beginning of the 1920s.
At that time, these rooms tried to attract the same public as the theaters, and competed in luxury with great gilding, chandeliers and other red velvet stage curtains. Eating popcorn in these rooms? Unthinkable, too popular, and moreover, it is not good for the carpet, thick, and expensive, where you risk finding the crushed popcorn.
“The first cinemas had signs outside their locker rooms, requiring that the employee in charge of this same locker room systematically check the presence or not of popcorn in the pockets of the coats” explains historian Andrew F. Smith, author of a book on the subject, Popped Culture: a Social History of Popcorn in America. The fear of smuggling popcorn, no doubt.
The arrival of talkies in 1927 changed the situation: the public grew considerably. If before it was necessary to have a little education to know how to read the signs at the time of the silent cinema, the talkies change everything. It is estimated that in 1930, nearly 90 million Americans went to cinemas every week.
Popcorn, the American spectator’s best friend during the Great Depression
The Great Depression that hit the country from October 1929 and for the next few years, threw millions of Americans out of work and on the roads, who found themselves without work, pointing to the soup kitchen. If the Hollywood factory is running at full speed in an attempt to re-enchant American spectators a little, there are still many theaters that are suffering from the crisis to the point of closing their doors.
This backdrop is actually going to present a great opportunity for popcorn and movies. Looking for cheap entertainment, the public therefore turns to the cinema. And at 5 or 10 Cent the bag of popcorn was an affordable luxury that most people could afford.
If at first the owners of dark rooms did not see the point of offering popcorn within their establishment, the sellers…