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Around 3600 B.C.: A form of popcorn exists in America, according to modern-day archaeological finds. In 1948, explorers find small ears of corn in Bat Cave of central New Mexico estimated to be around 5,600 years old.

1500s: Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes (1485-1547) gets his first sight of popcorn when he invaded Mexico. The Aztecs use popcorn to decorate ceremonial headdresses, necklaces and ornaments on statues of their gods.

Father Bernardino de Sahagun (1499-1590), a Franciscan priest, describes popcorn as " . . . a kind of corn which bursts when parched and discloses its contents and makes itself look like a very white flower. . . . "

1612: French explorers in the Great Lakes region note the Iroquois pop popcorn with heated sand in a pottery vessel.

1700s: Colonial women make the first breakfast cereal by pouring milk and sugar over popped corn.

1866: William Oberton applies for the first popcorn popper patent.

1893: The World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago's first World's Fair, launches the world's first portable popcorn machine and the forerunner to Cracker Jack.

Weighing in at 400-500 pounds, the popcorn popper is considered "light" because it can be pulled around by a pony to fairgrounds.

1896: F.W. and Louis Rueckheim find a process to keep their popcorn, peanuts and molasses confection from sticking together. A salesman who tries it exclaims, "That's crackerjack!" (lingo of the time for "cool!" or "awesome!"), and the name sticks.

1908: A new song, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," immortalizes Cracker Jack with the line, "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack."

Early 1900s: Independent vendors sell popcorn to customers going into movie theaters. Theater owners eventually see the opportunity and begin selling popcorn themselves.

1914: The American Pop Corn Co., maker of Jolly Time Pop Corn, is born. Founder Cloid H. Smith creates the first popcorn available on the grocer's shelf. It is also America's first branded popcorn.

1916: "Mary Hamilton Talbott's Pop Corn Recipes" is published by the Sam Nelson Jr. Co. of Grinnell, Iowa. Nelson urged readers to use popcorn "with various dishes for regular meals, as well as for entertainment, for an evening by the fireside, or upon the occasion of 'company' to whom you wish to present something new or at least unusual."

1930s: Jolly Time's radio program, "General Jolly Time and his Pop Corn Colonels," offers popcorn poppers by mail for $1. Money is tight during the Depression, but a 10-cent tin of Jolly Time made enough popcorn to satisfy an entire family.

1941-45: Popcorn consumption triples during World War II, since sugar rationing means less candy and sweets to snack on.

1946-54: After the war, popcorn consumption declines. The Popcorn Institute begins promoting it as the perfect TV-watching snack, making the early 1950s the largest home-consumption growth period for the popcorn industry.

1954: E-Z Pop popcorn, forerunner to Jiffy Pop, is launched.

1960s: Jiffy Pop's disposable pan handle makes it easy to shake over the stove, and the foil cover expands as the corn pops. The company ads proclaim, "Jiffy Pop, Jiffy Pop, the magic treat, as much fun to make as it is to eat."

1971: After spending nearly 40 years developing a better-popping kernel, Orville Redenbacher launches his popcorn products.

1980: Weight Watchers franchise embraces popcorn as an accepted Weight Watchers program snack.

1983: Microwave popcorn is launched and soon takes over as the favorite way to make popcorn.

1986: Popcorn ranks in the top 5 percent of the fastest-growing snack-food categories.

2004: Americans consume 17.3 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year, with the average American eating about 59 quarts per year.


Sources: The Popcorn Board; "American Pop Corn Company"; "Better Than Homemade," by Carolyn Wyman; United States Department of Agriculture