A Hawkeye State minister and a basement entrepreneur changed how the world snacks.

Popcorn as we know it may seem like a fairly new concept, but it’s been around since the early 1800s. In fact, a woman named Sarah Bella Dunlop sent a letter to a Missouri newspaper discussing varieties of corn. She advised there was field corn, Indian corn from the Mandan Indians being grown in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and popcorn. She wrote, “Pop-corn as it is vulgarly called; this is very prolific, and bears bunches of ears, tier above tier.” 

In 1861 The Weekly North Iowa Times reported, “Pop Corn. Every farmer should provide this cheap luxury; see that the boys have a patch, and let the young folks indulge in it freely. It keeps well after it is parched. Make pop-corn candy; it is much healthier than colored sugar for children.” Popcorn and popcorn balls started appearing in all sorts of places, like fairs, parties, plays and were often given as gifts. Some women adorned their attire with popcorn and even made jewelry out of it.



In 1866 an enthusiastic Methodist minister in Springfield, Iowa, became the city’s largest popcorn vendor. The Sioux City Journal reported, “he mingled things business, with things spiritual at a prayer meeting by crying out ‘popcorn’ when attempting to join in the responses of ‘amen.’”

By 1868 popcorn vendors were showing it to be a profitable business and the largest income maker in Fitchbury was the “popcorn man.” Two years later, popcorn was being turned into candy and Messrs. Bryant & Harriman of Waverly shared their latest popcorn confectionery with the Waverly Enterprise. It was reported, “Their pressed pop corn is the best we have seen for some time.”


From their home in Sioux City, Iowa, the Cloid H. Smith family launched the American Pop Corn Company, better known as Jolly Time, in 1914. In their first year of business, they sold 75,000 pounds of popcorn. Since then, the snack business started in a basement has sold over three billion pounds of the popular treat. Images Courtesy Jolly Time Popcorn


Early on, popcorn was grown in small quantities on farms and in gardens for home use, but by the early 1900s, popcorn had become a commercial crop grown for large-scale consumption. In early 1904 the Evening Times-Republican reported that Odebolt had shipped more popcorn than any other station in the world. In 1902 shipments amounted to 144 cars, and the 1903 shipments were estimated to be 250 cars. The cost was about 80 cents to one dollar per pound, when an average yield for farmers was a ton and a half per acre. 

In 1913 Cloid Smith realized that Sac County, Iowa, was one of the best places to grow popcorn, so he did. When he was given a price for his corn that he didn’t like, he took it to the basement of his Sioux City home, where he and his son Howard shelled the corn by themselves and then sold it by wagon. They were so successful that Cloid built a crib in 1914, and later, a shelling and cleaning building. By 1914 the American Pop Corn Company was underway. You may know their popcorn by another name—Jolly Time. According to the company, the name Jolly Time came out of a casual dinner conversation between Cloid and a Chicago advertising friend. The name simply “popped up” while Cloid was telling him about his new enterprise. They grew white popcorn and originally sold it in cardboard boxes, but due to moisture issues, they had a special tin can made that they used for decades. They were also known for including a recipe on the back of their packaging. Try this family recipe that’s been passed down through generations. 


During the early 20th century, popcorn stands—like this couple’s business in Grundy Center, Iowa—became common across the United States. During the Great Depression, the popcorn business was inexpensive to start and provided an affordable treat for customers. Arthur Rothstein, 1939, Courtesy Library of Congress


Smith Family Gourmet Baked Caramel Popcorn

24 c. popped JOLLY TIME®

nonstick cooking spray

1 c. butter 

2 c. firmly packed brown sugar

1 tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp. vanilla

½ c. light or dark corn syrup

Preheat oven to 250°F. Coat the bottom and sides of a large roasting pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place popped popcorn in the roasting pan.

In a heavy pan, slowly melt butter; stir in brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Heat to a boil, stirring constantly; boil without stirring for five minutes. Remove from heat; stir in baking soda and vanilla. Gradually pour over popped popcorn, mixing well. Bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven, cool completely. Break apart and store in a tightly covered container.

Recipe courtesy of Jolly Time Popcorn.

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