'Pop' off of Highway 20 and visit Sac City to see the 'World's Largest Popcorn Ball'

We all know that Iowa is a global leader in the production of agricultural products. We're pretty proud of our competitive standing in commodities ranging from field (dent) corn, soybeans, and hogs, to eggs, cattle, and dairy. But our state's agricultural landscape has a lot more diversity to it than might meet the casual observer's eye. Dozens of other crops and protein sources are grown here...from strawberries, pumpkins, and hops to tomatoes, turtles, and even...crickets! Yes, crickets.


One of those many crops that make up or diverse landscape is popcorn. According to USDA statistics, approximately half of our 50 states produce at least some popcorn. Incidentally, according to research I found online, our state was actually the top producer of popcorn until the 1940's. Today, Nebraska and Indiana are competing for first and second place.


As far as production in Iowa goes, the greatest cluster of production would be in Northwest Iowa. In fact, the first popcorn company in the United States was founded in 1914 in Sioux City. The company? The American Pop Corn Company. It's most famous brand? Jolly Time. If you are a fan of the buttery, salty, crunchy snack, there's probably a good chance you've thrown more than a bag or two of Jolly Time in your microwave over the years. Jolly Time has a "virtual" museum on their website and it's fun to look at their founding and history, as well as the evolution of popcorn as a must-have snack.


With Jolly Time located in Sioux City, it's conveniently located for those who popcorn growing farmers in Nebraska, South Dakota, or Iowa to sell to. Thus, Northwest Iowa became a leader in our state's popcorn production. Naturally, other companies "popped" up too. One of those is in Sac City: Noble Popcorn. Since Sac City and Sac County has a long history with popcorn, they decided to get creative and small towns always need to find creative ways to bring people into town.


Thus, an idea was born. Just about everything you can think of has a "World's Largest" (or conversely..."World's Smallest"... or some other height or weight designation). Over the past few years, Iowa Adventurer has stopped at a few of Iowa's other "world's largest". For example, the World's Largest Bull is in Audubon. The biggest Bullhead is in Crystal Lake. There are several more yet on my list (truck stop, strawberry, coffee pot...you get the point).


Why not make an attempt to have the "World's Largest Popcorn Ball"?

Over the past 25 years, the fine folks of Sac City have put together a number of large popcorn balls only to find that some group or location, somewhere else, has one-upped them. Former Des Moines Register columnist Kyle Munson did an excellent job encompassing the journey in this 2016 column. It's worth a read.


Now four summers ago, Sac City and Noble Popcorn decided to really do it up right. They constructed a permanent building for the ball with bullet-proof glass. They gathered a whole group of community volunteers together on June 18, 2016 (four years to the date of this publishing) and they succeeded in building what is then and now the "World's Largest Popcorn Ball".


According to Munson's story, the glove wearing volunteers had to, "Mix 2,500 pounds of dried corn syrup, 4,900 pounds of sugar, more than 2,300 pounds of popcorn and just enough lecithin additive so that the 60-gallon batches will stick together yet not clog the popcorn plant’s machinery."


The end result? They do a pretty nice job of giving the stats right on the building.

Up close, it's exactly what you might expect: a huge conglomeration of popcorn overflowing an equally impressive plastic "bowl". The bowl was manufactured by nearby Odebolt business Lundell Plastics.

The building includes a number of picture collages from that June 18 day to show what it all entailed.

Something of this magnitude obviously cannot be completed without some generous donors working to make it is a success. After all, it's not just a quirky bit of notoriety for the town...it's good economic development. Curiosity and audacity will bring travelers into town where they'll hopefully find a restaurant or shop to leave some of their money.

There are a couple of spots on the "campus" where donors are recognized.

Iowa Adventurer has stopped at the ball a couple of times - in both summer heat and winter chill. There's a guest book in front of the ball and I'm always impressed by the quantity of people each day who visit. If you think they are all just Iowans, you would be sorely mistaken.

I think it helps that there are big billboards along four-lane (and recently completed) Highway 20.

The site is on the more western half of town on Main Street and across from a busy Casey's General Store.

There's actually several other attractions to see right around the big ball. There's a museum and an old train depot.

The museum also encompasses a historical village with a number of different buildings. From what I can tell, based on this primitive website, it looks to be nicely curated.

I do not know what the present use of the depot is, but it does have its own Wikipedia page.

I'll have to get back to town again sometime to check out the depot and the museum. However, I did spend a few minutes looking at some of the village buildings each time I've visited.

If some of the buildings are available to go inside of, I'll have to come back and do that sometime.

It's a nicely organized village and I appreciate communities that put in the effort to preserve this history.

Obviously, there's a lot more to see and do in Sac County. I've written previously about my visits to Auburn and Nemaha. There are is also more to see and explore in Sac City and I'll have to find my way back again sometime soon. I know there are some nice retail stores and restaurants to check out.


In the meantime, if you are driving down Highway 20 and see one of the big billboards, take a few minutes and "pop" into town for a pit stop at the World's Largest Popcorn Ball. For the past quarter century, it's certainly been a point of competitive pride for this lovely town of about 2100.


As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Sac County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this website.

©2020 by Iowa Adventurer LLC