Every movie theater has a refreshment stand, and every movie theater refreshment stand sells popcorn. They might sell other snacks too – soda, candy, shaved ice, smoothies, mixed nuts, ice cream, or even granola – or they might not. But you can always depend on finding simple popcorn for sale in a movie theater.
Why? Has it just always been like that? Did the first movie theater sell popcorn allowing popcorn to naturally became a ritualistic part of going to the movies?
Hardly. Popcorn was not only not sold in the first movie theaters, it was banned. Yes, popcorn was specifically banned from most theaters in the 1920s.
Movie theaters of the time were elegant venues.
Popcorn is messy. The movies were silent. Popcorn is noisy. The 1920 movie theater catered to a well-to-do audience. Popcorn was a street-vended food popular among the less sophisticated patrons of nickelodeons, circuses and peep shows.
So how did a marriage between popcorn and the movie theater ever come to pass? And for that matter where did popcorn come from anyway? We don’t hear about popcorn in the European Renaissance. You don’t find popcorn in Chinese, Greek or Italian food. Did it come from Africa with the peanut and the watermelon? Nope.
What does Columbus have to do with Popcorn?
Popcorn seems to have originated in Peru, and archaeologists have found ancient kernels in New Mexico and Utah as well. Christopher Columbus and his crew were so fascinated by popcorn — that they purchased popcorn necklaces from natives of the West Indies during their first visit.
So how did popcorn manage to infiltrate the movie theater? The Great Depression foisted it upon theater owners. People liked popcorn. The popcorn street vendors did a very brisk business. Desperate to make their theaters more profitable, theaters first leased space to popcorn vendors at the theater door. The business of selling popcorn was so profitable that the theaters finally embraced it, and created their own popcorn stands within the theater lobby.
But it was the Second World War that sealed the marriage. Because of sugar rationing, candy and soda became scarce and too expensive to be sold in movie concessions. So popcorn seized the opportunity to became The Movie Snack.
Movie theaters and popcorn are happily married to this day.