Popcorn king s Gibson County days detailed in book
One of Gibson County s favorite sons is popcorn king Orville Redenbacher.
Orville was 32 when he began to manage the vast farms of the Smith family on Jan. 1, 1940. Known around Gibson County as Princeton Farms, Redenbacher managed the acreage owned by Henry P. Smith and his brother Hi, with a minor interest owned by Tony Hulman, owners of a wholesale grocery company and the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Details of Orville s life in Gibson County and his rise from a poor Clay County boy to a track star at Purdue, and eventually the development and promotion of his famous gourmet popping corn, are found ia a new book by
Robert W. Topping, a former newspaperman and Purdue staff member.
Purdue University Press has published Just Call Me Orville: The Story of Orville Redenbacher. Ist price is $16.95 for the 114 page paperback. I got a review copy, which I will donate to the Princeton Public Library History collection.
I once met the famous popcorn magnet in San Diego where he retired after selling his popcorn kingdom. He passed out stickers saying, I met Orville Redenbacher . And he was still full of life and corny humor. Orville was recruited by the Smiths from Terre Haute where he was the county agriculture agent.
He managed 12,000 acres in 24 separate tracts, mostly in Gibson County but some in Warrick and Vanderburgh counties. The family lived in a large white house on the east side of U.S. 41.
It was Indiana s largest farm of the time, according to Topping. And Orville was one of the first to plant hybrid seed corn. He managed the largest hybrid seed corn operation in the state and made Princeton Farms into an agricultural showplace. In 1944 Princeton Farms began raising commercial popcorn for the supermarket trade and by 1951 had 6,000 acres under contract. He got into cattle, hogs and sheet too. He would ship bulls in and out of the county and cone said, I got to be known as the biggest bull shipping in Indiana .
Besides the development of his popcorn, which came later when he moved to northern Indiana, he was also known as a pioneer in liquid fertilizer that eventually earned him a million dollars in many years before popcorn fame.
So the gangly, down home, innocent and believable Orville Redenbacher made his claim to fame by making popcorn that tasted better and left few dead soldier kernels in the pot. But he is best known for delivering some great commercials on television that made you love his popping corn.
The author has written a Hoosier kind of get-to-know him book with personal accounts and family histories. If you knew Redenbacher and the Smith family in Gibson County, you will find this an interesting read.
Publisher, The Daily Clarion
Thursday, August 18, 2011