Who Invented Microwave Popcorn?
The warm, buttery smell of popcorn wafts through the air and the familiar popping sound seems to spur hunger on whenever it is heard. For many years, however, the only way to make popcorn was on the stove or through the use of an air popper. It wasn’t until the early 1980’s that microwave popcorn was able to join this food product family thanks to the distribution efforts of General Mills. The story behind this product, however, is much more complicated than one might think.
The First Microwave Popcorn Was Invented in 1946
As the story goes, an employee for the Raytheon Corporation was conducting experiments with a magnetron. His name was Dr. Percy Spencer and he really loved eating chocolate. One day while working with the magnetron, he discovered that the chocolate bar that he’d kept in his pocket for later had melted. Curious about this, he began to experiment with other foods to see what would happen as well. One of those food items was popcorn, which popped when brought into proximity of the magnetron.
Raytheon loved the idea and so did Spencer. They realized they were onto something with the food heating that could happen and this eventually led to the invention of the microwave. Spencer himself actually holds the patent for microwave popcorn. It could be said, however, that the invention of microwave popcorn is what actually led to the invention of the microwave.
Microwave Popcorn Has Other Features with It Too
General Mills is often given credit for the invention of microwave popcorn because of their work to improve the initial product. Part of their research that occurred under the Pillsbury brand was to create a commercially viable popcorn product that was affordable for most households. The research, which was headed up by Lawrence Brandberg and David Andreas, involved the packaging for the popcorn as it would sit in the microwave.
That research led to the first microwave popping bag, of which these two gentlemen named above have the patent. Even so, these first bags of microwavable popcorn were just the kernels of corn combined with a convenient popping bag. What we think of modern microwave popcorn was yet to come.
Introducing Conagra’s Act I Popcorn
If you look at the average grocery store, you’ll find Act II popcorn available. This is shelf-stable popcorn that includes butter flavoring or other items that will soak into the popcorn once it is heated. Ever wonder what happened to Act I popcorn? This was the first product that introduced butter to the instant popcorn market and it actually used real dairy products within it. That meant this microwave popcorn had to be kept in the refrigerator until use. These products became the first mass marketed microwavable popcorn.
The next time you have a popcorn snack thanks to popping it in the microwave, remember these pioneers of this product because they are all partly responsible for what you’re eating – and the microwave itself.