GlobeThough popcorn probably originated in Mexico, it was grown in China, Sumatra and India years before Columbus visited America.

Biblical accounts of "corn" stored in the pyramids of Egypt are misunderstood. The "corn" from the bible was probably barley. The mistake comes from a changed use of the word "corn," which used to signify the most-used grain of a specific place. In England, "corn" was wheat, and in Scotland and Ireland the word referred to oats. Since maize was the common American "corn," - it took that name - and keeps it today.

The oldest known corn pollen is scarcely distinguishable from modern corn pollen, judging by the 80,000-year-old fossil found 200 feet below Mexico City.

It is believed that the first use of wild and early cultivated corn was popping.

The oldest ears of popcorn ever found were discovered in the Bat Cave of west central New Mexico in 1948 and 1950. Ranging from smaller than a penny to about 2 inches, the oldest Bat Cave ears are about 5,600 years old.

In tombs on the east coast of Peru, researchers have found grains of popcorn perhaps 1,000 years' old. These grains have been so well preserved that they will still pop.

In south-western Utah, a 1,000-year-old popped kernel of popcorn was found in a dry cave inhabited by predecessors of the Pueblo Indians.

A Zapotec funeral urn found in Mexico and dating from about 300 A.D. depicts a Maize god with symbols representing primitive popcorn in his headdress.

Ancient popcorn poppers were shallow vessels with a hole on the top, a single handle sometimes decorated with a sculptured motif such as a cat, and sometimes decorated with printed motifs all over the vessel have been found on the north coast of Peru and date back to the pre-Incan Mohica Culture of about 300 A.D.

Most popcorn from 800 years ago was tough and slender-stalked. The kernels themselves were quite resilient. Even today, winds sometimes blow desert sands from ancient burials, exposing kernels of popped corn that look fresh and white but are many centuries old.

The History of Popcorn Poppers

The ancient way to pop corn was to heat sand in a fire and stir kernels of popcorn in when the sand was fully heated.

Some Native American poppers used the same elements as modern popcorn machines: heat, oil and a pan of some sort. Pans were made from materials ranging from soapstone to clay and metal. Some of these poppers were huge, reaching eight feet across.

Exploring Paraguay during the 18th century, Felix de Azara told of a kind of popcorn with kernels on the tassel which, when "it is boiled in fat or oil, the grains burst without becoming detached, and there results a superb bouquet fit to adorn a lady's hair at night without anyone knowing what it was. I have often eaten these burst grains and found them very good."

Some Native Americans spread oil on an ear of popcorn and laid it near a fire, causing the kernels to pop attached to the ear. It was eaten similar to corn-on-the-cob.

Clay or metal cooking vessels also were used by some tribes in North and South America to pop popcorn. One ancient popper still used today, is a roughly spherical clay pot with a large hole at one side, a handle that goes around the top and tripod legs, very similar to the prehistoric popcorn pot found in Peru. These vessels are used with or without lids and with or without the addition of oil or fat for popping. The Papagos in Arizona still pop popcorn in large clay ollas - shallow clay vessels sometimes up to eight feet wide - over a fire, no doubt a custom descended from the Mexican and South American Indians who appear to have had the most advanced methods of popping popcorn. These people developed a number of pottery poppers as far back as 1,500 years ago.

According to Chief Whirling Thunder, a 20th century Winnebago chief in Chicago, Winnebago Indians have - for as long as anyone remembers - popped popcorn right on the cob by inserting a sharp stick through the cob and holding it near the fire. The Chief also said there is an old Winnebago saying that the ear of popcorn "should not be longer than the distance between the floating ribs on each side of the person to eat it." This conserved the limited supplies of the popular, precious snack!

The first popcorn "machine" was invented by Charlie Cretors in 1885. Until then, poppers were made to sit in front of stores to attract attention. But vendors wanted to be close to the crowds, especially the crowds near movie theatres. So Charlie made poppers that could be pushed on foot, pulled by horse and mounted on trucks.

Home poppers were first introduced around 1925, and a few years later they were being built in Junior High shop classes.

In 1945, Percy Spencer discovered that when popcorn was placed under microwave energy, it popped. This led to experiments with other foods, and the birth of the microwave oven.

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