“You’ll like it better or my name isn’t Orville Redenbacher.” That’s what Orville Redenbacher told the world back in 1970, referring to his delicious, fluffy popcorn. And he was right: Just a few years later, Redenbacher and his business partner, Charlie Bowman, were dominating a third of the popcorn market (well, the unpopped kind). But the question remains: Who really was Orville Redenbacher? The popcorn legend passed away back in 1995, but today we’re celebrating his would-be 106th birthday by answering that very question. After all, to many people across the country, Redenbacher is just an imaginary, goofy-looking mascot for a — may we say, quite delicious — brand of popcorn. That, friends, is not the case.
Orville Redenbacher was, in fact, quite real. Real enough to be born on July 16, 1907 in Brazil, Indiana. And making and selling popcorn wasn’t just a later-in-life career move for the Midwestern boy: He began growing his own popcorn when he was just 12 years old, selling it out of the back of his truck and saving money to go to college. He was successful in his endeavors, too. In 1926, Redenbacher graduated from Purdue University with — no surprise here — a degree in agriculture.
Despite his true passion lying in the realm of popcorn — there aren’t many people out there who fit that description — Redenbacher began his post-college career in the fertilizer business. But let’s not dwell on that part of his life; it’s what came after that’s more interesting (and less, well, smelly). In 1944, Redenbacher began raising his own popcorn, buying a seed corn plant with business partner Bowman in 1951. The assigned themselves with the task of developing a light, fluffy hybrid popcorn that wouldn’t leave many unpopped kernels behind. As we all know, they were successful.
Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn was a hit, and the rest is history: Their product began selling like crazy, thanks in part to Redenbacher’s successful television commercials (check out the 1976 Popcorn Challenge video below).
And there you have it: a brief history on the man behind the popcorn that’s probably sitting in your pantry at this very moment. Get to popping — that’s the right way to wish Redenbacher a happy birthday.