September 2, 2011
Grandpa Redenbacher brings Hoosier culture to the world through a better popcorn

The author, Kevin Fish, on a trip to Africa with Grandpa Redenbacher.

Grandpa Orville Redenbacher had his start on his family farm near Brazil, Indiana.  Eating popcorn which his father made, he determined early on to seek how to make a better tasting popcorn. 

From selling popcorn in high school, he went on to study agronomy at Purdue University.  Most of his working life, from being a vocational high school teacher to a county agricultural extension agent to the manager of Princeton Farms to being president of Chester, Inc., he spent many years trying to come up with a better popcorn through cross-hybridization of popcorn plants.  In 1959, he hired plant breeder Carl Hartman to join him at Chester, Inc.  Between Grandpa’s expertise and Hartman’s experiments, the winning formula was discovered in 1965. 

Grandma and Grandpa Redenbacher in Cape Town.

I remember when my family lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in January-April, 1965.  Before, during, and after that time, we visited Grandpa and Grandma in Valparaiso, Indiana.  He always cooked up his popcorn, along with home-made ice cream.  Starting out as RedBow Popcorn (named for Redenbacher and his Chester partner Charles Bowman), Grandpa and Charles adopted the suggestion of renaming it Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn.  Starting in 1971, Grandpa personally drove around the United States trying to sell his new product, and soon began promoting it through television commercials. 

Grandpa Redenbacher on a trip to Ethiopia.

From those Indiana days, Grandpa exported Hoosier culture to the rest of the United States.  Furthermore, during his world travels in the agriculture program of People-To-People International, he introduced Hoosier culture to the world in the form of popcorn.  This writer was on one of those trips:  to Africa in 1968.  In fact, while Grandpa kept promoting popcorn to worldwide audiences, the State of Indiana held onto the distinction of being the largest popcorn producer in the United States, and still holds that honor.  Thanks to Grandpa’s determination and love of popcorn, Hoosier culture was transported worldwide.

Kevin Fish, a descendent of Orville Redenbacher, now lives in California.

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