Orville Redenbacher was destined to lead an a-maize-ing life. Today, when we see his bespectacled, bowtie-clad, smiling face on packages of Orville Redenbacher classic popcorn many of us may not know much about his story behind the snack.
Redenbacher put decades of dedication into developing the perfect popcorn hybrid that changed the way we savor popcorn forever.
Popping Corn At 12-Years-Old
In 1907, Orville Redenbacher was born on a farm in Brazil, Indiana. The combination of living on a fertile farm and in the Midwest landscape allowed Redenbacher to begin growing his own popping corn. He started when he was just 12-years-old. Redenbacher was able to quickly turn his budding hobby into a business. He saved enough money for college and attended Purdue University.
While in college, Redenbacher proved to be a Jack-of-all-trades. He ran track and cross-country, played the tuba in Purdue’s All-American Marching Band, and was the yearbook editor. Redenbacher graduated in 1928 with a degree in agronomy, the science of soil management and crop production. He was back on his way to pursuing his passion for popcorn.
Finding The Perfect Popcorn Hybrid
As a post-graduate, Redenbacher spent years working on Indiana farms and was hard at work finding the perfect popcorn hybrid.
The ideal popcorn hybrid allows popcorn to pop to light and fluffy perfection. It leaves behind few, if any, unpopped kernels, with the ability to achieve a 44:1 ratio in volume of popped to unpopped corn. It also goes without saying that the dream popcorn hybrid must be delicious, too.
In order to discover that popcorn hybrid, Redenbacher focused on perfecting the art of cross pollenating. Redenbacher, according to the Orville Redenbacher company archives, spent nearly 40 years crossbreeding 30,000 popcorn hybrids to find what was known as “the perfect kernel.”
Going Into Business With Charlie Bowman
Before Orville’s “perfect kernel” was fully perfected in 1965, he laid down an impressive entrepreneurial foundation. In 1944, Redenbacher raised popcorn for the supermarket trade. Redenbacher, alongside his business partner Charlie Bowman, purchased a hybrid seed corn business in 1952. The business was named The Chester Company, and Orville himself hand-selected family farmers to grow its kernels. Little did these business partners know The Chester Company would become the world’s largest producer of popcorn seeds!
The Launch Of “Red Bow”
In 1970, Redenbacher and Bowman had the “perfect kernel” at their side and officially launched their gourmet popcorn company. The original name of the business was actually “Red Bow.” Look closely at the surnames of the founders and you’ll quickly figure out how the name came to be!
Red Bow only lasted for a brief time — the business name that is, not the business itself. An advertising consultant advised changing the name to “Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn.” Both Redenbacher and Bowman agreed on the name change and by 1976, they were ready to sell their popular popcorn business.
Orville Redenbacher’s Legacy
While Orville himself no longer owned his business, he would remain the face of the brand for decades to come. He personally made appearances throughout the 1970s in TV commercials that talked up his unique, light, and fluffy popcorn. Many of these spots ended with his famous tagline, “You’ll like it better or my name isn’t Orville Redenbacher.”
Orville Redenbacher passed away in 1995, but left behind a growing legacy. He appeared with his grandson, Gary Redenbacher, in TV commercials in the later years of his life. Today, third generation farmers continue to grow popcorn for Orville’s namesake brand — growing from the same fields that Redenbacher once personally selected.
All images credited to ConAgra