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February 5: The Popcorn Man

February 5, 2015

popcornSamuel M. Rubin, who turned the popping and consuming of popcorn in American movie theaters into big business in the 1950s, died at 85 in Boynton Beach, Florida on this date in 2004. Rubin was a lifelong vendor; at 12, he went to work for a vending machine company serving movie theaters, which did not yet have concession stands. When one of the machines rolled and broke, Rubin used it as counter to sell candy, anticipating the modern movie concession stand. Eventually he managed concessions for several major movie chains, Broadway theaters, and sports stadiums, as well as Central Park and the Empire State Building. The owner of several movie theaters himself, Rubin also developed the too-large, too-expensive candy bars and boxes that are sold in movie theaters.

“Movies had prospered without popcorn until the Great Depression, when theater owners scrambled to make up for reduced ticket prices by turning to ‘audible edibles.’ The appetite of moviegoers was so great that from 1934 to 1940, the nation’s annual popcorn harvest grew from 5 million to 100 million pounds.... New York theaters were among the last to embrace popcorn, because it had a small profit margin, popping machines were a fire hazard and the snack seemed a bit déclassé. Charles Cretors, the president of C. Cretors & Company, which has made popping machines since 1885, agreed that New York was late to the popping game and suggested that part of the reason may have been that early popping oils contained lard, which is not kosher.” —Douglas Martin, New York Times