Orville Redenbacher, along with his brother Wilbur, was the founder of modern popcorn and flight. Together, Orville and Wilbur Redenbacher revolutionized the snack food and travel industries in the early years of the last century. Whereas in 1900 members of the general public had to watch their silent movies on trains, by 1930 they were watching in-flight "talkies" while munching on popcorn during coast-to-coast commercial flights. And this, all thanks to the Redenbacher brothers.
Although both brothers contributed to popcorn and airplanes (aeroplanes as they were called in the day), it was Orville in particular who is remembered today. The older and more innovative of the two brothers, Orville had a sense of fashion and a look all his own. For these reasons, Redenbacher is remembered today as the first man in the field of flying popcorn.
Orville was born in 1874, several years before his brother Wilbur in Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Orville and Wilbur's parents were middle-class machinists; their father in particular had a love of building humanoid devices he called "robots". None of them worked, but later in life the zany, elbow-grease antics of their father inspired Wilbur and Orville to invent things like their dad had done.
Both children were particularly rambunctious and creative growing up. Young Orville invented a corn-cob firing cannon that would launch cobs hundreds of feet into the air, usually aimed at his brother Wilbur. Orville also was fascinated with burning and boiling things in oil, such as pea pods, peppercorn seeds, and live kittens. Historians agree that the childhood shared by Orville and Wilbur served as the foundation for their later aviary and snack-food aspirations.
By 1894, Orville was keeping a daily journal. He vented frustration at his father's unwillingness to invest in his pet projects, what he described as "the future of transportation and snackage." Orville was banished from the Redenbacher family home when, one day in 1895 in a misguided attempt to gain his father's support, he strapped giant feathered wings to one of his father's robots and threw it off a cliff. His father never forgave him for the destruction of the robot, and Orville was forced to make his own way in the world. Young Wilbur moved out with Orville in a show of solidarity.
In 1896, Orville and Wilbur Redenbacher opened up a unicycle shop in nearby Cornsville, Ohio, just over the border from Kittyhawk. There, Orville began tinkering in his off-hours with the creation of snacks that could sustain him throughout the work day. He would slather potatoes in oil and fry them, only to have them explode in his face, leaving him pockmarked for life. At the same time, Orville became obsessed with flight, and would talk to potato heads and corn stalks about soaring over the treetops like a bird. Wilbur became concerned and instituted civil commitment proceedings against Orville, but Orville quickly redirected his energy toward inventing a "lighter-than-air-corn" machine. His efforts resulted in success.
The Lighter-than-Air-Corn Ship Is Invented
On February 2, 1903, Orville told his brother he had a surprise for him, and Wilbur threatened to call the police. Orville told Wilbur to go ahead and bring the police to a cliff at Kitty Hawk in a half-hour. Orville then brought thousands of corn kernels he had heated in an oven filled with helium to the cliff, enmeshed in a giant purple bag. In front of his brother and shocked onlookers, Orville jumped in a basket attached to the Kernels and made the first lighter-than-air-corn flight ever recorded in history. At first, onlookers were concerned as to how Orville would descend, but he quickly allayed their fears by munching on handfuls of the "pop corn" (as he called it) from the flying bag, thus slowly causing the entire contraption to lower to the ground. Aside from a high-pitched voice, the "pop corn" had no side effects on Orville, and upon reaching the ground the police agreed the new snack was delicious.
Wilbur Goes On to Invent the Airplane
Wilbur used the ligher-than-air-corn ship as inspiration to take spare parts from the unicycle shop and assemble them into a flying contraption powered by a motorcycle engine. However, Orville lost interest in flight and spent the remainder of his days marketing and eating his delicious new popcorn.
Today, people around the world eat popcorn every day, and they fly in giant helium and popcorn filled zeppelins to exotic destinations. They also travel in airplanes. And none of it would have been possible but for Orville and Wilbur Redenbacher, the inventors of heavier-than-air flight and popcorn.