Hopedale History
June 2022
No. 404
Popcorn Man

Hopedale in June   


Hopedale Popcorn Man, 1950s and 1960s

By Norm Blizard

I remember my Dad had purchased a used popcorn machine to supplement his income from Draper’s and its claim to fame was it was from the World’s Fair in NYC Flushing Meadows in 1939.

The popcorn machine was a large vertical unit with an electric pot that cooked the corn in a metal kettle. I did a little more research and found the 1939 Manley Popcorn Machine which I think is the right model

We had to push it out of our garage to near the street (Route 16 / Mendon Street) on evenings when Mendon Drive In was open (I think Thursdays thru Sundays, but again I may be wrong).  The popcorn machine weighed way too much so it was a two or three person push down our gravel driveway (Later our neighbor paved his half). I had to keep its undercarriage in repair to make the trip down the driveway, which was my first engineering project.

Once it was in place near the road, we ran a thick electrical cord from our house plug (110v) to the popcorn machine in the front of the house.  Its current draw was so high when popping popcorn that we had to shut off most lights and appliances to avoid blowing fuses (which we did frequently).

We sold our product in little cardboard boxes, which we amply filled with greasy popcorn from the extra oil we used.  Travelers along Route 16 would stop on the way to the drive-in to buy boxes; usually one or two per person in the car.  They often asked for extra butter which we amply sprayed on the top of the popcorn to let it drip down into the contents. The boxes would frequently turn soggy from all the oil sprayed. Salt was also amply applied. I am sure this combination accounted for more than a few heart failures in the area.  Maybe Dan can check the statistics.

We sold the popcorn for 10 or 15 cents per box, plus tips in change (they would give us a quarter).  We had to undercut the Drive-In, which they didn’t like, and tried to have us shut down.  I’m not sure how this got resolved, I think eventually we went out of business due to equipment failure and changing times (less Drive-In traffic).

At the end of each day my mother, the finance minister of the home, would do the counting and check the books.  I’m not sure how much we made. I think we at least broke even considering the permits, supplies, and taxes.  On the days when I ran the machine, they let me keep the profits (after taking their cut) and I started my first savings account.  At the end of one summer, I think I had saved $100, which at 5 cents profit must have meant I sold 2000 boxes. That seems incredible.

Every day after a night selling popcorn, we would pull the tray out from the machine and eat the leftovers. The only problem was Dad smoked and used the tray as an ashtray. This slowed and limited our consumption.

Another memory I have is my Dad and I taking the popcorn machine every Wednesday in the summer to the Hopedale Band Concert series. We would set it up as one of the concessions along with the ice cream truck, hot dog stand and bake sale table. He made a lot of friends at the band concerts, including the pigeons who feasted on spills.  I am not sure how the popcorn machine made it from our garage to the Hopedale Park but I think the Town Park truck arranged for the pickup and return.  

We may have contributed to a few accidents on Route 16. I do recall a police chase with guns blazing past our popcorn machine while the perps sped toward Mendon.

After I left home for college, I think my dad ran the popcorn business for a few more years and then sold the machine.  Its antique value would be high today.  It’s probably in someone’s recreation room, or scrap heap.

I still love popcorn but I’m relegated to air-popped now for health. 

Norm C Blizard
Columbus, IN

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