Yummy Origin Stories: Jiffy Pop
Updated: Jan 29
We love food! We especially love creative food treats that were invented to make us happy, if not necessarily healthy. You just know the origin stories of those delightful products have to be interesting and probably surprising, too!
Popcorn has been a delicious treat for humans living in the new world for at least 1,000 years. Dried popcorn kernels recently excavated in Eastern Peru dating back that far were so well preserved that they still popped when heated.
Seventeenth century French explorers in the Great Lakes region told of Iroquois people popping corn kernels on a bed of heated sand inside tightly closed clay vessels.
The tasty corn treat caught on in Colonial America where the kernels were popped by simply tossing a handful onto the hot coals of the cooking hearth. Later, long-handled wire baskets were used, making it easier to control the popped batch. Popcorn was a favorite nibble of Benjamin Franklin who designed his own popping pot.
In 1893, candy shop owner Charles Cretors invented a steam-powered, combo peanut roaster/popcorn popper with which he prepared and sold the hot snacks outside his shop. By the 1920s he was selling an electrified version of the automatic popcorn popper to movie theater owners, kicking off the movie popcorn tradition with a bang – or rather a POP!
The dawn of the television age saw more families staying home to cook up a batch of popcorn and gather around the TV set for an evening’s entertainment. But long before the convenience of microwave ovens, popcorn making was still a tedious stovetop affair. Dried kernels of popping corn were mixed with oil and heated on the stove in a tightly covered pot and shaken until they popped, hot and steamy -- a messy and haphazard affair that took practice to get right.
Along came E-Z Pop, the convenient and fun way to make popcorn at home. Invented by Michigander Benjamin Coleman in 1954, E-Z Pop was a mix of popcorn kernels, oil and salt packaged in its own disposable aluminum pan with a fold-out handle and a sealed foil cap that expanded as the corn popped. Finally, stovetop popping with no muss, no fuss!
Four years later, Hoosier industrialist Frederick C. Mennen came out with his own uncannily similar product that he named Jiffy Pop.
Coleman’s E-Z Pop company filed suit against Mennen for copyright infringement and won the case. However, the decision was later overturned on appeal due to the fact that the Jiffy Pop foil cap’s spiral design looked different enough from E-Z Pop’s less efficient “flattened button.”
Mennen’s Jiffy Pop became a success and quickly edged E-Z Pop out of the market after he sold it to mega-conglomerate American Home Products in 1959. National TV ads featured stage magician Harry Blackstone Jr. touting Jiffy Pop with the slogan, “The magic treat! As much fun to make as it is to eat!”
A 1973 Topps Wacky Package parody sticker of the wildly popular Jiffy Pop product
Jiffy Pop’s sales deflated with the advent of microwave snack products in the 1980s. A Jiffy Pop microwaveable version was introduced in 1988 but it couldn’t compete in the heavily saturated microwave popcorn market by then and the product was discontinued.
The original Jiffy Pop product is still available in stores as it is a popular item with campers.
Frederick Mennen went on to invent the self-cleaning rotary lawn mower and an at-home testing kit for gonorrhea.
Photos (From top): Jiffy Pop product photo, 1959; E-Z Pop/Wrigley’s Spearmint Gun coop ad, 1955; E-Z Pop popcorn TV ad, “Bop Corn,” animated by Stan Walsh, produced by John Hubley in 1955 at his Storyboard Inc. studio; Jiffy Pop TV ad featuring Goonies cap offer, 1985; Wacky Packages collectible sticker takeoff on Jiffy Pop, 1973; TV ad for Microwave Jiffy Pop, 1988.