October 21, 2010
Orville Redenbacher
(Photo by Orin Zebest)

(Photo by Orin Zebest)

Orville Redenbacher (1907-1995) is best known for the gourmet popcorn company that carried his name.  Redenbacher was born in Brazil, Ind. and grew up on the family farm where he sold popcorn from a roadside stand.  He attended Purdue University where he joined Alpha Gamma Rho, an agriculture-oriented fraternity, and earned a degree in agronomy.  He served as a Vigo County Farm Bureau extension agent in Terre Haute and at Princeton Farms in Princeton, Ind.

In 1951, Redenbacher and his business partner Charlie Bowman bought the George F. Chester and Son seed corn plant near Valparaiso, Ind., renaming it “Chester Hybrids.”  Over the ensuing years, they tested thousands of hybrid strains of popcorn.  Around 1970, the two men began to market “Orville Redenbacher Gourmet Popping Corn.”  Within a few short years, Orville Redenbacher popcorn had captured one-third of the market of unpopped popcorn, using Redenbacher with his signature red bowtie and glasses stating, “Try my gourmet popping corn. You’ll taste the difference or my name isn’t Orville Redenbacher.”  In 1976, Redenbacher sold the company to Hunt-Wesson Foods.  The company passed through several hands before becoming a part of agribusiness giant ConAgra in 1990.  Orville Redenbacher Gourmet Popping Corn remains the nation’s #1 selling brand.

Redenbacher has been recognized for his popcorn success.  Purdue University granted him an honorary doctorate degree in the College of Agriculture in 1988.  To mark the success of its native son, the city of Valparaiso, Ind. started a Popcorn Festival in 1979, which has become an annual community celebration on the Saturday after Labor Day.   For more information on the Popcorn Festival, visit: http://www.valparaisoevents.com/popcorn%20festival/

[Sources:  The New York Times, 20 September 1995; “Orville Redenbacher,” Wikipedia]

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