The story behind the best-selling popcorn tin of all time, from KC’s own Topsy’s

Photography by Katie Henrichs.

The history of the popcorn tin, as told by Topsy’s president Bob Ramm:

The tins kinda started as an accident. The large tin is six and a half gallons. Six and a half gallons of popcorn seems weird. Why six and a half gallons? Well, if you fill that tin with popcorn oil, it’s exactly fifty pounds. That’s how we used to receive the popcorn oil, in those pails—plain, silver, metal cans.

Popcorn people are notoriously, let’s say, creative. So you have a free package. Why throw that away? Since it was a food container to start with, put popcorn in it and sell it! You don’t have to pay to throw it away.

Originally, it was just a plain silver can. The idea was developed across the industry, sort of simultaneously.

One of our competitors started painting the cans by hand, but we sold so many we couldn’t paint the designs fast enough. So we figured out how to print designs on the cans—we invented that concept. The original cans were printed by Ohio Art Company in Bryan, Ohio. Their claim to fame is they made the Etch-a-Sketch toy. They figured out how to print the can, and we sold a lot of them.

We’ll sell one hundred thousand cans this Christmas. We actually lose money every month of the year except Christmas.

We have stores in the mall where rent isn’t cheap. During the year, we lose money. But at Christmas, we sell a lot of popcorn. We have twenty thousand customers all over the United States that somehow you can trace back to Kansas City. Someone in Kansas City sent a can of popcorn to someone in California, the person in California said, “Oh, that’s pretty good popcorn. I’m going to send a can to somebody in Ohio.”

The thing’s just mushroomed over the last fifty years. We sell the product more than the tin, but the tin helps. People want to collect them.

Our best-selling design, by far, is the Plaza Lights. It’s the number one popcorn tin ever designed. It was designed by a guy named Bob Price Holloway. He’s a local artist. He sold us that design in 1984 and we have a trademark on it. Fifty percent of what we sell is still in the Plaza Lights design. It’s part of the tradition.

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