Charles Cretors, a Decatur, Illinois, confectioner, was disappointed with a steam-powered peanut roaster that he had purchased. As Cretors was the inventive type, he set out to make a better one, which was in operation by 1891. During this time, he moved to Chicago, where J.M. Savage, a traveling salesman, convinced Cretors that a wide market for roasted nuts existed. Cretors devised a steam-powered machine that would roast 12 pounds of peanuts and 20 pounds of coffee, while also popping corn and baking chestnuts. As a fully mechanized unit, it provided more even quality than roasting by hand, and the operation itself provided entertainment for the customer. At Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition, he transfixed the public with the smell and taste of delectable snacks that were provided by his hand-drawn cart.
As a former sign painter, Cretors recognized the importance of an attractive place of business, and at his confectionary, he had improved customer traffic by putting the candy maker in the store window. His horse-drawn popcorn and peanut vending wagons, which debuted around 1900, embodied both these concepts, and he did them one better with mechanized operations. Cretors used steam for roasting and popping, which gave a much better product than open flame designs. Moreover, the steam kept the roasted and popped products warm, while a small steam engine rotated the roasting drum. As an acknowledged showman, Cretors put the steam engine in the window, where its action would delight small children and fascinate adults.
Cretors vending wagons were painted in bright colors, trimmed in gold leaf and displayed nickel-plated trim components. The hardware, artistic glass and wood craftsmanship on the wagon are finely blended in this presentation. This Popcorn Wagon is painted in red with decorative markings and has contrasting yellow wood wheels with matching yellow undercarriage. Red and white canvas awnings roll out on both sides, and you enter through a back door. At the front, raised twin steam poppers eject fresh popcorn into a large bin behind glass, from which it is dispensed to customers. On the far side is the peanut roasting drum, and opposite, next to the vending window, is the small steam engine. Steam is also piped through the roof to operate a shrill whistle.
This particular Popcorn Wagon is one of three remaining examples with the original equipment. It is still equipped with its original blue glass and the owner's name - A.W. Masters. It benefits from a complete frame off, nut and bolt restoration. It is reported to retain all of its original parts with matching stamps in place.
The popularity of the automobile soon dictated truck-based vending. The Cretors machinery was often found on the back of a Ford Model AA truck, and by that time, Cretors had moved from steam to electric roasters. The popularity of popcorn in movie theaters ensured a lasting business for roasting equipment, and C. Cretors and Company remains a cornerstone of the hot snack food industry today.
This Cretors Wagon is a fine example of the iconic mobile popcorn vendor of yesteryear, and it comes with all its accoutrements and equipment for operation. As a self-contained concession stand, it can be used entirely for show or be put to full commercial use.