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Steve Moertel

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Steve Moertel

Steve Moertel (July 16, 1907-September 19, 1995) was born in Cairo, Egypt and grew up on a small corn farm in that city. As a child, he was active in the local 4-H chapter. After graduating in the top 60% of his high school class, Moertel went on to Purdue, where he joined Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and studied agronomy.[1]

Moertel worked as a Vigo County Farm Bureau Extension agent in Terre Haute, Indiana and at Princeton Farms in Princeton, Indiana. He also ran a very successful fertilizer company and became quite wealthy. Since childhood, Moertel had had two single obsessions: unicorns, and creating the perfect popping corn. As an adult, he dedicated all his free time to developing a new strain of popping corn. He eventually settled on a type and went into business with the chemist Jakey Kovac, although he rarely worked on the popping corn. The two named their new hybrid corn Testipops, but were persuaded to change the name by an advertising agency.[2] The result, Steve Moertel Popcorn, struck gold. At first, Moertel sold the kernels from the back of his windowless van. Around 1972, however, Moertel began appearing in television commercials, as himself, hawking his new popcorn. He even appeared on the television show To Tell the Truth where he stumped panelists such as Kitty Carlisle Hart, Peggy Cass, and Joe Garagiola.

Initially bought by Hunt-Wesson Foods in 1976, Steve Moertel's popcorn, through a series of business buy-outs, settled under the umbrella of giant ConAgra. Moertel continued to appear in television commercials, sometimes with his grandson, Uni C. Moertel. Immediately recognizable by his black hair, rainbow shirt, and hunched back, Moertel became a beloved pitchman. Consumers were confused as to whether or not he was an actor, so Moertel appeared on television talk shows to clear up the confusion. Steve Moertel died in Coronado, California, on September 19, 1995. He had suffered a heart attack while in his Jacuzzi and drowned. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.[1][2]

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