Obituary: Orville Redenbacher

Orville Redenbacher, agricultural scientist; born Brazil, Indiana 1909; married (two daughters); died Coronado, California 19 September 1995.

Orville Redenbacher was an agricultural scientist who revolutionised the popcorn industry in the United States with a fluffier, tastier brand.

In an oversize bow tie and with his signature white wavy hair, Redenbacher often overshadowed his own product. Behind his country bumpkin appearance - he once described himself as a "funny-looking farmer with a funny-sounding name" - he developed the first significant improvement on the variety that Iroquois Indians gave the founding fathers at the first Thanksgiving 300 years ago. That strain of corn has been traced back 5,600 years by popcorn archaeologists.

In the 1940s, while managing a 12,000-acre farm with his partner Charlie Bowman, Redenbacher began to experiment with hybrids of corn until, in 1965, after 30,000 strains had been tried, he found a kernel that would expand to 20 times its original size when popped.

Known as the Redenbacher-Bowman "snowflake", this breakthrough was far more expensive to produce and was initially shunned by the industry. Redenbacher persisted and began to sell his popcorn, called Red Bow, from store to store across his native Indiana.

Though he claimed never to have missed a sale, it was not until he hired a Chicago marketing firm that his product became a national success. For $13,000 the firm suggested he called the product Orville Redenbacher Gourmet Popping Corn and put his picture on the label. The name, he never tired of reminding people, was one that his mother dreamed up for free. Within five years of its introduction in a Chicago department store in 1970 the brand was the leader in an industry that had never had one.

Like Colonel Sanders, of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Redenbacher made hundreds of personal appearances a year and appeared in folksy commercials with a wholesome, middle-American image that remained after he sold the business in 1976. Last year Redenbacher's was still the national leader, accounting for 45 per cent of the $1bn in annual sales.

Orville Redenbacher was born on his father's farm and sometimes sold popcorn from a roadside stand. After graduating from Purdue University in 1928 he began his research into hybrid corn. Though 80 per cent of popcorn now sold is microwaved and comes in many flavours, including Cheddar cheese, Redenbacher said he remained a purist and preferred the stove-cooked variety.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy