The History Of Microwave Popcorn

Who invented microwave popcorn?

Great question. The history behind the answer to that is quite interesting.

Microwave popcorn and the microwave itself were basically discovered, or actually "invented", simultaneously and by accident.

So, whether you're just curious, or perhaps doing research for a class project, the following facts shall provide you with a better understanding about who, how and when microwave popcorn was invented. Pay attention, because there may be a test later.

vintage microwave popcorn advertisement

How Microwave Popcorn Was First Invented

An engineer by the name of Dr. Percy Spencer worked for a high-tech technology company by the name of Raytheon Manufacturing Company. Raytheon specializes in revolutionary innovations and creating a variety of electronic devices and machines.

As the story is reported, back on October 8, 1945, Percy Spencer stood in front of an active magnetron (a high-powered vacuum tube that generates microwaves). He then noticed that the chocolate candy bar he had in his pocket began to melt. This intrigued him. So he then placed popcorn kernels by it and they popped. As the old saying goes, the rest was history. This incident spawned the invention of the microwave.

Spencer also experimented with testing other foods as well. The second food he tried out was an egg. Of course the egg exploded. It even warmed up a hamburger. By the way, this reminds myself of when I was a little bratty kid. I would go over to my grandparents house, and there were a couple times that I would place an egg or two in their microwave, turn it on full blast, and watch until the eggs blew up and covered the entire inside with splattered egg.

Pop over to Microwaves101 for more info about the invention and the history of the microwave, how it evolved from advanced radar technology systems during the World War II era, it's commercial use, and finally entering the common household across the globe that we're familiar to seeing today.

Microwave Popcorn History

Percy Spencer filed a US patent #2,480,679 on March 29, 1947 which was granted on August 30, 1949 to detail the use of microwaves to pop popcorn. Illustrations in the patent show that the popcorn is packaged in a bag. It also shows the whole cob with the kernels attached, which is obviously not the traditional method that we use today for microwaving popcorn.

Microwave popcorn patent by Percy Spencer

Microwave Popcorn Innovators

Over the years, various people and companies have worked to improve microwave popcorn with packaging and flavoring.

Research provided by Lawrence C. Brandberg and David W. Andreas of General Mills led to the first microwave popping bag during the 70's. Their US patent #4,267,420 was granted in 1981.

Also during the mid-1970's, Pillsbury sold microwavable popcorn out of vending machines. As microwave oven sales increased to residential consumers, they began distributing to grocery stores too.

You've heard of Act II Popcorn, right? Well, they were initially known as Act I when they introduced butter within their microwavable bags. They used real dairy products, which meant that their product required to be kept in the refrigerator or the freezer. In 1984 they came out with a shelf stable microwave popcorn with butter flavoring, as well as other flavors, and renamed their brand as Act II. They actually became the first mass-marketed microwave popcorn manufacturing company.

As you can imagine, with the convenience and low costs, popcorn consumption would increase dramatically by tens of thousands of pounds. Now days, we grub on about a million pounds of unpopped popcorn a year. All of these historical pioneers mentioned above and a handful of other great innovators are all partly responsible for what you enjoy snacking on today.

And that's your history lesson for today. No worries, I won't be assigning you a pop quiz. Enjoy your popcorn!


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