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The History of Concession Food

Posted on December 21 2016

Part of the enjoyment of going to a ballgame or fair is getting to indulge in concession food. Gooey, cheesy, meaty, sickeningly sweet concession food.

These are the foods you know aren’t good for you, but they’re just too good to pass up. And since you only get to have them during special, concession stand-related events it probably won’t do too much damage to your gastrointestinal system.

I’m always curious about where foods originated so I decided to look up some information about the most popular concession food selections. In my search, I also came across some new and interesting options that you may soon see at a concession stand near you.

 

The history of concession food dates back to the 1400s. That’s when Germans began making what’s now known as the hot dog. This tasty meat treat is a staple of baseball concession stands. They are so popular today many parks have special hot dog days when fans can get franks in buns for a discount.

Cotton candy was also invented in the 1400s in Italy, but back then it was created by hand. Finally, in 1897, two Tennessee candy makers invented a machine that could spin out large quantities of what they called “fairy floss.” Most Americans didn’t get their first taste of cotton candy until the 1904 World’s Fair when the fairy floss machine made its debut.

The movie theater is another place you’ll find concession stand food. The National Association of Theater Owners estimates that movie theater owners make 40% of their money by selling snacks for film lovers to munch on during the show. But food historian Andrew F. Smith notes that popcorn was popular long before movies were imagined. It became an easy sell for independent vendors when theaters began opening in 1905.

Theater owners didn’t start selling their own concession stand food until the 1930s. Popcorn was one of the big sales because it was cheap (and it smells really good). Candy counters were constructed and included a few high-end options like handmade bonbons. They were sold alongside mass produced candies such as Milk Duds and Jujubes.

It wouldn’t be a concession food post without mentioning Cracker Jacks. Both salty and sweet, Cracker Jacks were created with the intention of giving popcorn an interesting twist. In 1893, the creators, Frederick and Louis Rueckheim, mixed popcorn with molasses and peanuts. They came up with a super-secret solution to make sure everything didn’t glob together. The treat got its name after an early taster exclaimed it was “crackerjack.” That’s old school slang for awesome. Cracker Jacks became so popular it got a mention in the classic song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

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