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
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments