110 years later, popcorn wagon still popping and popular

The 1914 C. Cretor’s Company model “D” popcorn wagon parked in front of the Brown County Historical Society (BCHS) museum. BCHS purchased the wagon in 2002 and restored it to the original 1914 appearance. This year marks the 110 birthday of the popcorn wagon and BCHS is seeking public photos from it’s long history in New Ulm.

In Sept. 1914, Meyers Jorgenson applied for and received a license to operate a popcorn wagon in New Ulm.

Jorgenson’s idea was to sell bags of fresh popcorn in the downtown from a newly purchased popcorn wagon. He purchased the wagon new from the C. Cretor’s Company for $1,200. For the next 12 years, Jorgenson would successfully sell popcorn from his wagon in the downtown area of New Ulm. The popcorn wagon was typically parked at the corner of Center and Minnesota Street.

Now, 110 years later, the same popcorn wagon continues to operate in New Ulm. It has moved location a block west off Broadway, but it still serves popcorn as well as fond memories.

“That’s the fun thing about working the popcorn wagon,” BCHS volunteer Yvonne Weber said. “There is so much feeling for it. There is such a long tradition.”

Weber is a longtime volunteer with BCHS and began working the wagon in 2015. This will be her ninth season managing supplies, resources, cleaning and scheduling volunteers work shifts.

Denis Warta mans the popcorn wagon, parked on Center Street in 1972. The Warta family owned the wagon from 1970 to 1973.

The popcorn wagon only operates 10 times a year. This allows BCHS to apply for a specialized vendor license. If the wagon operated more, BCHS would need a new license that would cost more and have more requirements and more volunteers.

Wagon appearances are typically scheduled to match with community events. Weber said Oktoberfest is the overall best day for popcorn sales due to the high volume of people on the street.

Weather is also a factor in sales. Weber said popcorn sells best during the nicest weather. If it is 70 degrees and sunny, they will sell a lot. If its cold and rainy, sales suffer. The same is true if it’s 95 degrees and humid.

Weber said the popcorn wagon goes through about 250 lbs of popcorn each season. Around 2,000 bags are sold in a season. All proceeds from sales go to benefit the BCHS.

Though the popcorn wagon provides fundraising for the museum, Weber said running the wagon is more about continuing a longtime New Ulm tradition.

New Ulm resident Otto Heymann samples a fresh bag of popcorn from the Popcorn Wagon in 1914.

“It is a part of our history,” she said.

For over a century, the popcorn wagon has made appearances in New Ulm’s downtown. It was present during countless community events. BCHS collection contains a photo of a farewell parade for New Ulm men leaving for Camp Dodge in 1917 to serve in the First World War. In the photo, the popcorn wagon can clearly been seen parked on the corner.

Weber said many of the popcorn wagon’s customers have their own personal stories of visiting the wagon as children.

“There are three to four generations of people who remember this wagon,” she said.

It is not unusual to have grandparents bring the grandchildren to the wagon and share a memory of it.

The popcorn wagon has been a part of New Ulm’s history for over a century.

For the last few years, Pat Woratschka has volunteered to wear the popcorn mascot suit. He stands on the corner of Broadway and Center to encourage customers. The mascot costume is called “Poppy.”

Woratschka said playing Poppy is a pretty good gig. He loves waving at the people driving by on Broadway.

“I enjoy meeting and greeting people,” he said. “It makes people smile.”

Woratschka has his own memories of the popcorn wagon.

“When I was a kid my folks would take my siblings and me to get popcorn and candy from it,” he said.

The popcorn wagon has been a part of New Ulm’s history for over a century. It was present at nearly every community event since 1914. In this photo, taken in Sept. 1917 the popcorn wagon can be seen on the corner of Center and Minnesota Street as soldiers leave for Camp Dodge

“It was and still is the best popcorn around. So tasty.”

The Popcorn Wagon has only had five owners. Jorgenson was the first. He owned it until 1926, after which he sold it it to Hans Larson who ran the business for 16 years. In 1940, Bernard Bauermeister took over the popcorn wagon and sold from it for 30 years. Diann Warta briefly ran the business between 1970 and 1973. Sylvia Hopkins, who worked with Warta, took over the business and operated the wagon for 26 years.

Webers said people her age typically remember Hopkins owning the business. She became affectionately known as “The Popcorn Lady.”

Hopkins’ daughters Barb Marti and Marcia Horner spoke at the Popcorn Wagon’s 100 year dedication.

Horner said her mother had memories of buying popcorn from the wagon a young girl. Before stores were open on Sundays, families would walk downtown and “window shop”. When the outdoor pool was open in German Park, kids would stop by the popcorn wagon on the way home from the pool.

Bernard “Ben” Bauermeister waits for customers in the popcorn wagon parked along Center Street (circa 1943).

Marti said in the early 1970’s, the popcorn wagon was thriving. People were always stopping at the wagon. During the weekday, bar patrons would by a fresh bag from the popcorn wagon, then go back inside the bar. On Saturdays, movie goers would purchase a bag on the way to the Starlight Drive-in Theater.

However, the popcorn became less profitable over time. Marti and Horner said as microwave popcorn became popular and after the drive-in theater closed, the demand for a popcorn vender decreased.

Hopkins retired from the popcorn business in 1999. Three years later, (BCHS) took over ownership of the popcorn wagon in 2002 to preserve the wagon and the tradition. In 2005, restoration was done on the wagon. It was repainted red, it’s original 1914 color.

With this year marking the 110 birthday of the popcorn wagon, BCHS plans to hold a special birthday celebration, but needs the public’s help. The museum is seeking photographs of the wagon down through the ages. The plan is to display the photos during a special birthday celebration in September.

Anyone with photos of the wagon are encouraged to email copies to education@browncountyhistorymn.org.

BCHS also wanted to thank all the volunteers and sponsors who made operation of the popcorn wagon possible.

“It takes a lot of sponsors to keep going,” Weber said. “Many have donated for years.”

Bank Midwest is sponsoring the popcorn wagon for the second year in a row. Others donors include Arneson Distribution Company, Thrivent Financial, Kwik Trip, AMPI, Runnings, HyVee, Cash Wise and Duane Piere.

The popcorn wagon’s 2024 season begins Memorial Day Weekend. The wagon will be open for business at 2 N. Broadway from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 25.


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