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  • Hi, I'm Craig. I eat popcorn like this.

  • And this is a Mental Floss video. Today, I'm gonna answer Bradley Stein's big question:

  • How did eating popcorn become a custom at movie theaters?

  • Nowadays, movie theaters depend on popcorn.

  • They earn about 85% of their profits and 40% of their total revenue from concessions.

  • But that wasn't always the case.

  • Today, I'm gonna tell you how the tradition got started. Let's get started.

  • Popcorn as a snack gained popularity in the US during the 19th century.

  • It quickly became associated with the places where it was sold, like fairs and circuses.

  • It was easy to make and transport for these events.

  • The first steam-powered popcorn maker was invented in 1885.

  • Eating popcorn in movie theaters, on the other hand, wasn't a custom yetprobably because there wasn't movie theaters yet.

  • In 1907, there were around 5,000 Nickelodeon theaters in the US, which were often little spaces the size of a storefront that showed moving pictures for 5 cents.

  • It became common for food vendors to set up shop near these theaters.

  • So food was initially part of the movie-going experience, but that changed when a bunch of huge, classy movie theaters emerged in the 20s.

  • There were typically signs posted saying no food allowed at the theaters, and they didn't sell food either.

  • This was probably because the owners didn't want to deal with messes in their fancy venues, and they also hated fun.

  • Plus, movie theaters were inspired by actual theaters rather than places like the circus.

  • Some of them cost millions to build.

  • It wasn't uncommon for them to have antiques, chandeliers, marble columns, and expensive carpets.

  • Popcorn and expensive carpet are not friends.

  • Me and popcorn aren't friends, either, because I eat it.

  • You don't eat your friends.

  • By the 30s, some theater owners were allowing vendors to keep food stands either inside or directly outside.

  • One thing that probably helped convince them to do this was that movies now had sound, so eating would no longer be a loud distraction.

  • Another big factor was the Great Depression; people could afford to see a movie and spend 5 to 10 cents on a bag of popcorn.

  • Plus, the theater owners benefited financially from having popcorn vendors there because the vendors paid them a daily fee.

  • Even with a fee, vendors earned a lot of money quickly.

  • One of the earliest movie theater popcorn vendors was a woman named Julia Braden.

  • "The popcorn gal," as no one called her.

  • She first started a little stand at the Lynwood Theater in Kansas City.

  • By the early 30s, she'd expanded her business to 4 theaters and started earning $14,400 annually, which is about $336,000 today.

  • As I mentioned earlier, this was the Great Depression, so not everyone was profiting like Julia Braden.

  • Some movie theaters started closing, but many were able to stay open thanks to popcorn.

  • They lowered the cost of admission and started earning more through their own concession stands, and so a custom was born.

  • Thanks for watching Mental Floss video, which was made with the help of all of these popped kernels.

  • If you have a big question of your own that you'd like answered, leave them below in the comments. I'll see you next week.

Hi, I'm Craig. I eat popcorn like this.

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