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Orville Redenbacher: What You Didn’t Know About The Popcorn King And His Favorite Snack

People | July 10, 2019

Orville Redenbacher's comical name is now synonymous with popcorn. Source: (guidepost.org)

You might remember the popcorn commercials on TV in the 1970s through 1990s that featured a bow-tie wearing old man with a funny name. That was Orville Redenbacher, and believe it or not, he became one of the most successful and well-known agricultural entrepreneurs in the country. How did this bespeckled gent from Indiana create an empire from a humble snack? Let’s find out. Here’s what you didn’t know about the Popcorn King and his favorite snack. 

Orville Redenbacher, acknowledged as the popcorn king of the world, is also a kingpin in the liquid fertilizer business and in the sale of irrigation equipment and snowmobiles. Source: (gettyimages.co.uk)

Orville Redenbacher didn’t Invent Popcorn

Orville Redenbacher was old when he appeared in all those TV commercials but not nearly old enough to have invented popcorn. Popcorn is an old, old snack. And it’s an all-American creation. Kernels of popped and unpopped popcorn dating back to around 3600 BC were discovered in a cave in the American Southwest. According to native folklore, tiny, even-tempered spirits lived in each kernel of popcorn. When they were heated over the fire, however, they became so angry that the exploded out of their shell. 

Light and fluffy, that's how Redenbacher liked his popcorn. (waldina.com)

Yes, Orville Redenbacher Was His Real Name

Born on July 16, 1907, in the tiny town of Brazil, Indiana, the Popcorn King was given the unfortunate and comical name of Orville Redenbacher. Much later, when his popcorn brand was taking off, his marketing team thought that his unusual name would be memorable to the buying public. Although Redenbacher was reluctant, he eventually agreed to sell Orville Redenbacher Popcorn. He even poked fun at his own name in his commercials by saying, “You’ll like it better or my name isn’t Orville Redenbacher."

As a boy, Redenbacher sold popcorn to earn extra money. Source: (orvilleredenbacherpurdue.weeble.com)

He Sold Popcorn to Pay for College

As a youth, Orville Redenbacher grew his own popcorn and sold bags of the kernels from his car as he drove around the Indiana countryside. He saved every penny that he could. When he graduated from high school in the mid-1920, he was in the top 5-percent of his class. He enrolled in Purdue University in Indiana and majored in agronomy. 

Redenbacher first made his fortune in fertilizer. Source: (orville.com)

From Poop to Pop

After college, Orville Redenbacher started a farm fertilizer company. This was a successful business and Redenbacher became quite wealthy. In his spare time, however, he still dabbled in popcorn. His goal since childhood was to develop the perfect popcorn and he spent a lot of time crossbreeding different popcorn varieties in search of a light and fluffy product. 

Redenbacher's partner, Charlie Bowman, stayed behind the scenes. Source: (wsj.com)

Redenbacher had a Partner

Orville Redenbacher eventually developed a variety of popcorn that met his high standards. He partnered with Charlie Bowman in 1951 and the two began selling RedBow Popcorn. The RedBow popcorn was the same as the later Orville Redenbacher Popcorn…the marketing department strongly suggested the name change, icing Bowman out of the company name. Bowman continued to serve as the company president until his retirement in 2006. Redenbacher’s role was that of Head of Scientific Research.

TV's To Tell The Truth. Source: (latimes.com)

Orville Redenbacher was on, To Tell The Truth

In the early 1970s, Orville Redenbacher made his television debut on the show, To Tell The Truth. The show’s panelists, Kitty Carlisle, Joe Garagiola, and Peggy Cass, were stumped by the humble popcorn farmer. 

Was he a pitchman or an actor? Source: (historyforsale.com)

Folks thought Redenbacher was an Actor

When Orville Redenbacher first started to appear in his own TV commercials pitching his popcorn brand, audiences adored the quaint and humble old man with his glasses and bow tie. In fact, most fans assumed he was an actor that the company hired to serve as the face of the brand. Redenbacher’s marketing team solved the problem by having the Popcorn King appear on numerous television talk shows where he explained his farming background and popcorn obsession. 

Redenbacher maintained that stovetop popcorn was the best. Source: (amazon.com)

He Didn’t Like Microwave Popcorn

Orville Redenbacher was old-fashion in his belief that stove-popped popcorn tasted better than microwave popcorn. With the popularity of microwave ovens in the seventies and the demand for convenience snacks, the Orville Redenbacher Popcorn company jumped on the microwave popcorn bandwagon and sold both kinds of popcorn to consumers. Still, Redenbacher maintained that stove-top was better. 

Tags: Orville Redenbacher | popcorn | snacks

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.