Category Archives: History

The Curious Missing History of Corn Nuts

“Corn Nuts Toasted Corn” seems redundant until you read the history of the brand

Corn Nuts, a well-known brand, essentially offer fried and salted corn. While this snack isn’t particularly novel, as variations exist worldwide, its marketing suggests a significant influence on American culture. It’s almost a given that any rural gas station will stock bad coffee and Corn Nuts, highlighting widespread popularity of the snack. However, what’s intriguing is how a single American brand came to dominate such a simple and common food without any real explanation.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Initially, the brand originated in Oakland, California, where a man named Olin Huntington invoked the well-known “Brown Jug” drinking song that had surfaced in 1869, shortly after the Civil War.

Source: Official Gazette of the US Patent Office, 10 August 1937

My wife and I lived all alone,
In a little log hut we called our own;
She loved gin and I loved rum,
I tell you we had lots of fun.

Chorus: Ha! Ha! Ha! you and me,
Little Brown Jug don’t I love thee!

‘Tis you who makes my friends and foes,
‘Tis you who makes me wear old clothes,
Here you are so near my nose,
So tip her up and down she goes.

When I go toiling to my farm
I take little brown jug under my arm,
Place him under a shady tree,
Little brown jug, ’tis you and me.

If I’d a cow that gave such milk,
I’d clothe her in the finest silk
I’d feed her on the choicest hay,
And milk her forty times a day.

The rose is red, my nose is too
The violet’s blue and so are you;
And yet I guess, before I stop
I’d better take another drop.

Went for a walk on the railroad track,
Little brown jug on my back.
Stubbed my toe, and down I fell,
And broke that little jug I loved so well.

Isn’t it catchy? It’s worth noting how famous the Brown Jug still was by the 1930s, when Olin’s particular version of salted fried corn started appearing for free in Oakland bars.

Moreover, again considering the Civil War influence on American culture, Olin’s recipe perhaps resembled a snack known very well by soldiers, as described by Serious Eats:

…regular dry corn, which tended to be stolen from local fields and was used to make [pinole] (parched corn ground to a fine powder, seasoned with salt or sugar and eaten dry)

It seems at the very least that Confederate soldiers were familiar with a food preservation technique that meant roasting or parching stolen corn kernels. This method likely provided pro-slavery militants with a comfort food during long and desperate retreats renowned for drunken looting and pillaging.

How and why did toasted corn also migrate West? Some could argue Americans on the California Trail through the late 1800s needed a convenient, light and durable food option that could withstand rigors of travel and provide much-needed energy. Others rightly might argue those are the exact same reasons that pinole had long been a common staple of native Americans and other long hunters. In other words, was any food in the 1930s (after prohibition) more comforting than a drink with some familiar corn on the side?


While Olin’s Brown Jug Toasted Corn might sound like an odd brand to someone today, in 1936 that combination of words probably sounded more like someone saying water is wet. It was brilliant marketing for his day.

Thus the Oakland bars serving toasted corn rapidly grew the snack’s popularity until they ran directly into fierce political headwinds. A huge influx of hungry immigrants to California generated intense resentment towards “Okies” seeking a better life during the Dust Bowl. Free food? Suddenly a Brown Jug Toasted Corn model of handing out bar snacks was basically regulated out of business.

A man named Olin Huntington created a toasted corn product called Brown Jug and sold it to bars, which handed it out to patrons for free. The toasted corn was legendarily so popular, especially with children, that kids were often caught dashing into taverns to grab handfuls.

But shortly thereafter, California passed a law making it illegal to give away food at bars, spelling disaster for Brown Jug’s business model.

An ages old concept of using corn to feed starving Americans on long journeys became very popular with starving kids during the Dust Bowl? You don’t say.

One of the most famous photos of the Dust Bowl starvation-level struggles for American families. “I wish she hadn’t taken my picture. I can’t get a penny out of it. [Lange] didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures.” Florence Owens Thompson. Source:

The new laws were apparently too much for Olin, so he threw in the towel and sold his company. The transfer of Olin Manufacturing and their Brown Jug Toasted Corn business to a new entrepreneur (Albert Holloway) included a huge marketing reversal. Not only did the product now distance itself from an association to drinking, it added a 5 cent charge. The new focus shifted to selling small bags into schools as wholesome snacks for children… if they could pay ($1.50 in today’s terms).

1949 Corn Nuts marketing to parents and kids. Click to enlarge

The product was renamed based on what bar patrons, and possibly children, reportedly called out when they didn’t want salted peanuts: “hey bartender, how about some more of those corn nuts”.

Lastly, after all that history being said, the appeal of Corn Nuts lies in what reporters called a “pure and simple” concept. Something that seems very well-known around the world – oily corn with salt is delicious, and sustaining on long journeys. No wonder it’s in every gas station.

White men in California wearing suits wrote themselves into history as being the “capitol” of fried corn snacks. Click to enlarge. Source: Chicago Tribune, 12 Jun 1972, Page 73

The perplexing part of the story is how a single brand with a single product came to dominate the American market to such an extent, given such obvious potential for numerous producers of salted fried corn to emerge.

However, dominance might be linked to the obscure politics of its origin story. It benefited from a hard turn away from the common snack associated with drinking and starving, into a conveniently packaged snack for kids… if they could pay.

By distancing from America’s controversial yet widely recognized Civil War, Brown Jug and Dust Bowl history (let’s face it, who today knows those lyrics), Corn Nuts successfully fabricated a strangely abrupt “pure and simple” origin story to build a dominant position in the convenience snack market.

Interestingly, this mirrors an abrupt and controversial racist origin to Doritos corn chips.

It begs a question of how and where the mostly forgotten Olin Huntington came upon his recipe that was then purchased and repurposed into a Corn Nuts empire. So far, I’ve found no evidence of Olin’s major influences, perhaps by design. It’s almost impossible to find any mention of Olin himself.


  • Cancha is the word used in Peru and Ecuador for corn that has been soaked and then toasted in a pan with oil and salt. There tend to be different sizes, textures and regional variations.
  • Cancha Chulpi is harvested young and tender, then toasted with seasoning and salt until it pops, emphasizing crunch.
  • Cancha Pescorunto is a smaller corn often toasted with seasoning and salt until it pops, again emphasizing crunch.
  • Cancha Serrana, or Andean corn, is found in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia. Very large kernels are known for more of a starchy texture, frequently found in soups, stews, and side dishes. Like Cancha Chulpi and Pescorunto it can be toasted with salt.

How Disney’s 1964 Robotic President Lincoln Ended Up Training U.S. Military Today

This is an old obscure story but, with all the talk lately about robots manufactured by and for militant racists (e.g. Tesla), I thought it would be worth revisiting.

Disney made a robotic President Lincoln in 1964, which lectured audiences for dramatic effect. It since has been used as a model to train U.S. troops.

Having watched the facial animation progression from Wathel’s first efforts in 1955, thru Jack Gladish’s first Chinaman, then the 1964 Lincoln [through today]… We first implemented this sort of work in our projects for the US Marines in the Infantry Immersion Trainer at Camp Pendleton. We created a series of animatronic townspeople to populate the immersive training environment—some of them were slated to be hostile combatants.

Did I just read that a fake Lincoln was staged as a hostile combatant for Marines to train against?


Allegedly the justification for turning Disney’s Lincoln into enemy combatant was that animatronics were easier to build than using human actors. Does this mean no actors were willing to play Lincoln as an enemy of the Marines for some particular reason?

I mean the underlying theme of this story reminds me of…

…Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California was a hotbed of KKK activity–an open secret that was tolerated or aided by Marine Corps brass… white marine Klansmen openly distributed racist literature on the base, pasted KKK stickers on barracks doors and hid illicit weapons in their quarters…

Camp Pendleton, racist hotbed of the KKK, trained Marines with an animatronic staged as their enemy combatant… based on President Lincoln? What would President Lincoln say about that?

Oh no! Not the KKK again!

Were they training Marines on assassinating him? Here’s a 1977 interview of a Marine about their environment.

Q. Do you think the Klan has been rooted out of Pendleton?

A. Definitely not. Definitely no. It’s still here and they’re still organizing here. They might have calmed down a little bit; kept their stuff under cover a little bit more, but as far as being rooted out–no.

Lincoln blithely portrayed as the basis for enemy combatants seems to fit a sad narrative. Misuse of technology easily can poison human U.S. troops against democracy.

Robots manufactured by and for militant racists is a fascinating chapter of disinformation tools in American history, no?

Who regulates robotic “moments” for safety and integrity such as authenticity, and under what authority? Historians always want to know.

Forbes Ranks Tesla Optimus Robot Behind a 1960s Disney Toy

A 1957 robot from “Mars and Beyond!” Source: Disney

Absolutely scathing analysis is coming from Forbes, alleging Tesla robotics are just a clumsy fraud.

…while it’s cool to see a company like Tesla tinkering with robotics, it seems like we still have a long ways to go before we’re sharing our homes with robot servants—a promise of the future we’ve been waiting on for over a century. Optimus doesn’t appear have capabilities beyond anything we could do in 1964…

Just one century? That sounds like the original mechanical Turk story from the 1700s, if we really want to go back in time. And three centuries of such experience is why wise Germans tend to call Tesla products today “Getürked” (fraud).

Consider now how little has changed since the 1700s, in terms of charlatans and con-artists.

Fun fact: Driverless cars — road robots — run the same long timeline as other modern robots. They all basically are post-WWII science fiction.

Heavily promoted in the 1960s as our inevitable future, the buzz almost entirely died out by the 1970s (not least of all because the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam War destroyed trust in automation systems).

The 1958 solemn book about accidental nuclear war that inspired the famous 1964 comedy Dr. Strangelove

This is not to say hard problems can’t be solved. Rather that the people actually solving hard problems will fail wherever charlatans roam unregulated, because fraud destroys markets.

Attention-obsessed charlatans tend to burn so brightly they suck all the oxygen out of innovation, undermining authentic engineers as a perceived threat to false status.

Without fraud there would be no Tesla.

Power Doesn’t Corrupt: “For some people, power seems to bring out their best”

Lord Acton was wrong about a lot of things, especially his views on power.

Lets start with the unavoidable fact that Acton hated the idea of abolitionists spreading power to individuals, as he worried greatly about white male slaveholders abruptly losing their concentration of power (treatment of Blacks as property instead of humans).

In other words, Acton hypocritically framed states’ rights as wrong when they abolished slavery (Kansas). Instead he maintained that slaveholders were the noble ones for centralizing power into an elitist Confederacy to deny abolitionist states’ rights — he unmistakably and incorrectly rejected the individual’s right in order to express his strong preference for preservation and expansion of white supremacist tyranny.

Next, from this important context, let’s look at Acton’s most famous phrase taken from one of his letters to Bishop Creighton in 1887.

Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.


…for some people, power seems to bring out their best. […] In sum, the study found, power doesn’t corrupt; it heightens pre-existing ethical tendencies.

That’s a relatively new study that blows Acton out of the water, and here’s another one:

I demonstrate that when powerholders attribute their power internally, they tend to participate in more self-interested work behaviors, but when they attribute their power externally, they tend to participate in more global prosocial behaviors.

And here’s another one:

Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power

Acton provably and easily seems a terrible fool.

Really these studies just confirm what we already should have known all this time. New research continues to tell us basically the same things the great American politician Robert G. Ingersoll, had been campaigning about and published in 1895:

Nothing discloses real character like the use of power. It is easy for the weak to be gentle. Most people can bear adversity. But if you wish to know what a man really is, give him power. This is the supreme test. It is the glory of Lincoln that, having almost absolute power, he never abused it, except on the side of mercy.

Funny how Americans probably won’t recognize one of their best men, the famous Ingersoll. Honestly, how well do you know Ingersoll’s writings and what he did for America?

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), known as The Great Agnostic, traveled the country for more than thirty years lecturing to capacity crowds on more than twelve hundred occasions. He usually talked for three or four hours straight with no notes. His topics ranged from Shakespeare to Reconstruction, from science to religion. His biggest crowds turned out to hear him denounce religion and the Bible. He was no doubt one of the greatest orators in American history.

He was ahead of his time on social issues such as women’s rights, birth control, and equality of the races. Frederick Douglass is said to have stated that , of all the great men of his personal acquaintance, there were only two in whose presence he could be without feeling that he was regarded as an inferior–Abraham Lincoln and Robert Ingersoll. Yet, his name has been all but forgotten.

1862 Portrait of Robert Ingersoll. Source: “The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Vol. 9 (of 12)”

Abraham Lincoln and Robert Ingersoll. Two names that should never be forgotten.

At the same time, it seems far too many people to this day are regularly exposed to Acton’s wrong-headed British white-supremacist nonsense.