Iowa is full of roadside attractions, but Sac City’s World’s Largest Ball of Popcorn is one of the most unusual. While most giant food-themed attractions aren’t actually edible, this one could be. Made from real, locally grown popcorn kernels, the World’s Largest Ball of Popcorn really is a ball of fun.
But the path to this world record wasn’t an easy one. Over the past 30 years, the community of Sac City came together four times to claim this title. Today, the small town remains home to the World’s Largest Ball of Popcorn — and you can experience it in person.
The History of the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball
Sac City’s Popcorn Legacy
The area now known as Sac City was named after the Sac and Fox tribes, who lived on the land at the time of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1855, the area was first platted by Joshua Keith Powell of Fort Dodge, Iowa, and the city was officially incorporated in 1874.
Only 14 years later, farmers began growing popcorn in the county. The area proved to be ideal growing conditions for the tasty treat. Other growers quickly sprouted in Odebolt, Iowa, as well as a handful of other nearby towns. But it was Sac City that quickly became known as the Popcorn Capital of the World. The town produced so much popcorn that even the Cracker Jack Company relied on local farmers to produce its sweet and salty treat.
Today, roughly 2,100 people (and the Cedar Creek Popcorn Company) call Sac City home. But all of the kernel craziness started almost 30 years ago when Shirley Phillips, then the economic development director of Sac County, had an idea.
The First Sticky Spectacle | April 1995
To honor the area’s agricultural history and boost local tourism, Phillips had the idea to create a giant ball of popcorn to be displayed at the county fair. So, in April of 1995, 35 Sac City residents came together to create the community’s first World’s Largest Popcorn Ball.
Weighing 2,225 pounds, the popcorn ball traveled around the state — appearing in countless parades and even a Boy Scout Jamboree. Afterward, it returned to the Noble Popcorn plant where visitors would often stop by and request to see it.
“After a couple years, they needed to get rid of it,” Phillips said during an interview in 2013. In order to qualify for the official world record, the popcorn ball needed to be edible. As a result, it had started to grow mold.
Once again local organizers concocted a plan. This time they decided to dispose of the ball in just as sticky a spectacle as when it was created. During the Sac County Fair in August of 1997, organizers loaded the popcorn ball with seven sticks of dynamite. A packed crowd of nearly 2,000 filled the grandstand, a safe distance away from any potential popcorn debris.
But when the moment of truth came? It wasn’t quite the exhilarating rain of popcorn Phillips or any of the other organizers had expected.
“They threw the plunger and the inside of the ball was still so sticky that it flew into the air, fell down and broke apart into chunks,” she said.
A Second Showing | June 2004
By the time the first popcorn ball was destroyed, Sac City’s record had already been beaten. A group of Boy Scouts in La Crosse, Wisconsin had recently crafted a 2,377-pound ball.
So, in June of 2004, more than 40 volunteers gathered once more at the Noble Popcorn Company. They spent seven hours and 13 minutes constructing a 3,100-pound ball of popcorn that stood at seven feet tall. Like its predecessor, the second ball of popcorn lasted for a few years before it was transported to the Sac County Fairgrounds and used as feed for the animals.
In 2006, an Illinois popcorn factory crafted a 3,423-pound ball, dethroning Sac City as the “world’s largest” title holder once again.
Third Times a Charm? | February 2009
By 2009, the people of Sac City were ready to make another attempt at the record. So on February 28, 2009, more than 253 volunteers spent 12 hours and 40 minutes creating the community’s third World’s Largest Popcorn Ball. When all was said and done, the ball reached a towering eight feet, four inches tall with a circumference of 28.8 feet. To verify the 5,000-pound behemoth’s weight, the Iowa Department of Transportation brought in scales typically used at truck weigh stations.
Unlike its predecessors, the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball remained on display until spring of 2016. The wacky attraction was located in a tiny red shed on the grounds of Sac City’s Museum Village, just across from the Casey’s on Highway 20. That popcorn ball lasted more than seven years, delighting locals and tourists alike. Over the years, excited visitors have taken their wedding photos, posed with their RAGBRAI teams and snapped selfies with the giant ball of popcorn.
In fact, this is the first World’s Largest Popcorn Ball I visited on a road trip through Sac City when I was a new Iowa transplant. While it was hard to get a good look at the ball through the shed’s small plexiglass window, it was impressive to see how the ball held up after its creation.
But, of course, it wasn’t long until Sac City’s record was challenged once again. In 2013, the Indiana State Fair built a 6,510-pound ball of popcorn to celebrate “The Year of Popcorn.” However, Indiana destroyed their ball immediately after its completion.
Still, Sac City wanted to try to reclaim their world record one last time. In April of 2016 the city attempted to remove the existing ball.
“As we went to remove it from the building, the guys thought they could just take a chainsaw and cut into it,” Phillips said.
But that didn’t work out as well as they’d planned. After all that time, the giant popcorn ball was still gooey on the inside. Eventually, the fire department had to use the Jaws of Life to pull the ball apart and carry it off to the dump.
“Getting rid of them is just as hard as making them,” Phillips jokes.
Organizers also removed the former popcorn ball shed. A new 20-foot by 20-foot structure was designed specifically to house the fourth iteration of the popcorn ball. With windows on all four sides, the new shed provides an even better viewing experience for passersby.
The Sticky Saga Continues | June 2016
In June 2016, Phillips, now the Executive Director for Western Iowa Tourism, was called back once again to help reclaim Sac City’s title for (hopefully) the last time.
On Saturday, June 18, 2016, Sac City came together to create its fourth World’s Largest Popcorn Ball. The hope? That this ball would be too big to ever be challenged again. Volunteers used a plastic form created by Lundell Plastics as a cradle to support the popcorn during its construction. Phillips says people of all ages come from all corners of the state and beyond to participate in the creation of the community’s popcorn projects.
“People just have a ball,” she said. Literally.
The completed ball weighs a whopping 9,370 pounds and stands at more than eight feet tall.
In order to qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records, the popcorn ball must be edible and must be created by hand. After the official record judging, organizers looked into coating the ball in some sort of polyurethane to help preserve it for years to come.
Frequently Asked Questions About the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball
How big is the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball?
The World’s Largest Popcorn Ball measures 12 feet in diameter and weighs 9,370 pounds.
What is the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball made of?
The World’s Largest Popcorn Ball is made of corn syrup, sugar and popcorn.
What city in Iowa is known for making popcorn?
Iowa is known for being a large-scale producer of corn, but the northwestern part of the state has a particularly long history of growing popcorn. Sac City as well as Sioux City are both known for their popcorn production.
Plan Your Visit to the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball
Since the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball is an open-air attraction, you can visit it anytime. Rain, snow or sunshine, this behemoth ball will be here whenever you pass through Sac City.
The neighboring Sac City Museum is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
World’s Largest Ball of Popcorn, 13th and Main Streets in Sac City, Iowa
Share Your Thoughts
I would love to hear from you! Have you visited the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball? What other “world’s largest” things have you seen?