What do you do when you are out and about and have a craving for a quick snack? Shoppers, picnickers, theatregoers, or someone simply out for a stroll in the early 20th Century might have stumbled across a popcorn and peanut machine like one shown in this trade catalog.
The trade catalog is by C. Cretors & Co. and is both untitled and undated. However, we believe it was published circa 1924 by piecing together some information from the catalog, such as the company was established in 1885, it mentions 40 years of experience in building these machines, and it has a library stamp date of 1924 on the front pages.
These popcorn and peanut machines were suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. Some ideas for locations included theatres, department stores, ballgames, fairs, parks, picnic areas, and even sidewalks. The machines were constructed of all-steel frames and finished with paint and varnish. The various metal parts were nickel-plated. After completion, each machine was tested by inspectors.
The popcorn machines included a self-seasoning popper. This meant the flavor was “cooked right into the corn” during the popping process rather than being “smeared on afterwards.” This also saved time as additional buttering or salting was not necessary.
The machine was ready to begin popping within three minutes after the burner was lit. And then approximately every three minutes after that, it could pop 10-12 bags. The popcorn never encountered the burner’s fire or fumes which prevented it from having the taste or smell of gasoline.
According to this catalog, the parts of the machine were easy to access which helped with cleaning. It recommends spending just “15 minutes daily” to keep it clean.
One full page of this catalog is devoted to information about steam engines and electric motors used in these machines. As the catalog points out, the electric motor (below, bottom right) might not be as beautiful as the steam engine, but it was a good option when a machine was positioned indoors or in front of a store. That is, if a nearby and ready supply of electrical current was available.
The Enlarged No. 6 “Earn-More” Machine is featured on the first page of this catalog (below). Though it was a stand-alone machine and not incorporated into a wagon or automobile, it was equipped with casters to make it mobile. With a name such as “Earn-More,” it might have attracted attention of store owners and vendors desiring a large capacity machine to increase their sales. According to this catalog, the “Earn-More” Machine could pop 140-160 one-pound bags of popcorn per hour. And when it came to half-pound bags, it popped 280-320 bags per hour.
The “Earn-More” was also a peanut machine. Each hour, it had the ability to produce 100 five-cent bags of roasted peanuts. It came with a tester to ensure the peanuts were properly roasted. The machine’s three glass sides provided a visual of the warm buttered popcorn and roasted peanuts available for sale. Besides catching the attention of passers-by, the glass sides also allowed customers to see the machine in action.
Just like many of the machines in this catalog, the Model 401 Roaster and Popper with Case, shown below, was both a popcorn and peanut machine. Described as “an unusually attractive machine of maximum capacity,” it might have been used at venues for special events. The catalog suggests ballparks, fairgrounds, theatre lobbies, or department stores. The Model 401 included drawers for storing extra supplies, like raw corn, peanuts, bags, and cartons. Due to its ability to supply popcorn and peanuts at “maximum capacity” and a peanut roasting cylinder of 20-pounds capacity, this extra space probably came in handy.
The Sidewalk Special (below) was another popcorn and peanut machine. As the name suggests, it might have been situated on a sidewalk or street corner, but it was also suitable for other confined and not so mobile locations. It measured 10 feet 8 inches long and three feet wide. The operator entered the “Sidewalk Special” via a central door and worked in a very small space measuring 36 x 42 inches. The door featured a drop sash and folding counter which allowed interaction with customers.
Some machines were incorporated into a wagon, such as the Improved No. 1 Wagon Model “B” 1916, illustrated below. Described as “attractive, symmetrical and convenient” in design, it featured a steel canopy with drop curtains, brass trim, heated peanut drawers, and a 21-pound peanut roaster capacity. Signs reading “Fresh Roasted,” “Hot Peanuts,” and “Buttered Pop Corn” were located on the sides of the wagon to attract customers. The 8-foot 2-inch wagon was equipped with wood wheels and buggy rubber tires.
Some vendors who desired to be more mobile in their business might have considered the “Automobile Models.” Besides standard equipment like the peanut roaster and double corn popper, these vehicles could also be fitted with other food equipment. Options included ice cream packer cabinets, soft drink coolers, equipment for hamburgers and lunch items, and cookers. For example, the automobile illustrated below advertised cold drinks on its signs along with popcorn and peanuts.
As might be expected, installation and user instructions were included with each machine. But that was not all. The company also provided new owners with promotional items, including advertising materials, moving picture slides, newspaper cuts, and recipe books. The suggestions in these materials came from other owners sharing ideas that had worked for them.
This untitled and undated C. Cretors & Co. trade catalog and other trade literature by C. Cretors & Co. are located in the Trade Literature Collection at the National Museum of American History Library.