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Early life

Redenbacher was born in Brazil, Indiana, and grew up on his family's farm where he sometimes sold popcorn in 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.[1] 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. [edit] Business career

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,[2] and Orville was suddenly everywhere. Redenbacher could be first seen on national television in 1973, long before his well-known commercial appearances as himself promoting his gourmet kernels. In an episode of the 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.[3] 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.[2] 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 bow tie 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.

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