Redenbacher, Orville (1907-1995) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections
Orville Redenbacher was born in Brazil, Indiana, and grew up on his family's farm where he sometimes sold popcorn in Wesley town from a roadside stand. He graduated from Brazil High School in 1924 and was in the top 5% of his class. He attended Purdue University, joining the agriculture-oriented Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and the Purdue All-American Marching Band. He graduated with a degree in agronomy in 1928. He spent most of his life in the agriculture industry, serving as a Vigo County Farm Bureau extension agent in Terre Haute, Indiana, and at Princeton Farms in Princeton, Indiana.
In childhood, he joined 4-H, and developed an obsession with developing the perfect popcorn. He earned a small fortune in fertilizer, but in his spare time, he indulged in his obsession. In 1951, he and partner Charlie Bowman bought the George F. Chester and Son seed corn plant near Valparaiso, Indiana. Naming the company "Chester Hybrids," they tried tens of thousands of hybrid strains of popcorn before achieving success. Redenbacher and Bowman initially named the hybrid "RedBow," but were advised by an advertising agency to use the name Orville Redenbacher to market the corn. They adopted the advice, launching their gourmet popping corn in 1970,  and Orville was suddenly everywhere. Redenbacher could first be seen on national television in 1973, long before his well-known commercial appearances promoting his gourmet kernels. In an episode of the popular game show, To Tell The Truth, he stumped the panelists (Kitty Carlisle Hart, Bill Cullen, Joe Garagiola, and Peggy Cass), all of whom were shown enjoying samples of Redenbacher's then-new novelty popping corn flavors including chili and curry. The original Orville Redenbacher labels were colored in using Crayola crayons. Orville stayed original and stuck to the basic crayon colors of red, white, black, and yellow for his label so it would have a clean classy look.
By the mid 1970s, Redenbacher and Bowman had captured a third of the market for unpopped popcorn. In 1976, Redenbacher sold the company to Hunt-Wesson Foods, which was a division of Norton Simon, Inc. In 1983, Esmark purchased Norton Simon, and the next year (1984), Beatrice Foods acquired Esmark. In 1985, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts acquired Beatrice with the goal of selling off businesses. The popcorn business and other old Hunt-Wesson businesses were sold in 1990 to agribusiness giant ConAgra. Redenbacher then moved to Coronado, California. He continued to promote his popcorn, appearing in numerous television commercials (including later ones with his grandson Gary Redenbacher), always wearing his trademark bowtie and glasses. His wholesome image and folksy name confused many consumers, some even writing the company to ask if Redenbacher was a real person, and not an actor. He responded to this by appearing on various talk shows, professing his identity.
After the initial sale to Hunt-Wesson, the city of Valparaiso, Indiana, started their first Popcorn Festival in 1979. Celebrating Redenbacher’s development of his popcorn in Valparaiso, the festival featured Orville and Gary appearing several times as grand marshal of the signature event, the Popcorn Parade. Purdue University granted him an honorary doctorate degree in the College of Agriculture in 1988.
Redenbacher hosted the SFM Holiday Network syndicated movie broadcast package along with his grandson.
On September 19, 1995 Redenbacher was found dead in the jacuzzi of his condominium in Coronado, California. He had suffered a heart attack and drowned. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea. He was 88 years old.
2005 marked the 40th anniversary of Orville Redenbacher's Gourmet Popping Corn, still the #1 selling brand in the United States. To celebrate the man behind the popping corn, ConAgra developed a special website that highlights some of the classic Orville Redenbacher television commercials. One of his most famous and recognizable commercials states, "My gourmet popping corn pops up lighter and fluffier than ordinary popping corn. Mine is blowing the top right off of the popper. Mine eats better too. Try my gourmet popping corn. You'll taste the difference or my name isn't Orville Redenbacher".
Since 2006, several of Orville’s commercials from the 1970s and 1980s have aired on many channels across the country during commercial breaks. The advertisements for the brand’s "natural" popcorn snacks, introduced 13 years after his death (2008), feature a clip of him at the end.
In January 2007, an advertisement featuring a digital re-creation of Redenbacher appeared on television. Redenbacher's grandson, Gary Redenbacher, responded to questions about how he felt about the advertisement by saying: "Grandpa would go for it. He was a cutting-edge guy. This was a way to honor his legacy."
1. Thomas, Robert (September 20, 1995). "Orville Redenbacher, Famous For His Popcorn, Is Dead at 88". The New York Times: p. D20. http://www.nytimes.com/1995/09/20/obituaries/orville-redenbacher-famous-for-his-popcorn-is-dead-at-88.html?scp=1&sq=Orville%20Redenbacher,%20Famous%20For%20His%20Popcorn,%20Is%20Dead%20at%2088&st=cse.
2. Orville Redenbacher's popcorn partner shared the wealth, if not the celebrity, Remembrances Section, Wall Street Journal, April 18-19, 2009, p. A4
3. "Orville Redenbacher and his popcorn weren't always well-known". TV Squad. July 2, 2009. http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/weblogsinc/tvsquad/~3/pLrhhXYZGhg/.
4. ConAgra revives Redenbacher for popcorn ads by Bruce Horovitz, USA Today, January 12, 2007
5. Retrieved March 19, 2010 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orville_Redenbacher