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1920 Creator& Co. Popcorn Wagon

Our Creator & Co. popcorn wagon is a truly unique piece of American and Champaign County History.  The wagon has been delighting children and adults in Champaign-Urbana for more than 70 years. 


Francisco and Rosalie Sansone arrived in Champaign in 1896 after immigrating to the United States from Sicily in 1883.  Francisco (or "Broomie" as he was known for the brooms he sold) began selling popcorn on city streets shortly after his arrival in Champaign.  On February 23, 1900, the Sansones welcomed Henry, the last of nine children, to their family.  

Henry took up the family popcorn and peanut businesses at a young age and in 1920 married Lucille Boots in Galesburg.  

Our magnificent one-of-a-kind popcorn wagon was built as a special type "D Auto" by the C. Cretor & Co of Chicago and rolled off the factory floor on July 2, 1920, just four days before the Sansone's wedding.  The sale price as indicated in the Cretor records was $3,380 and the original owner was John Panousis of Galesburg.  It is believed that Henry purchased the wagon used in Galesburg sometime around 1935.  


Shortly after its arrival in Champaign, the original Model T chassis began to give out.  The story goes that Henry struck a deal with Sullivan Chevrolet of Champaign to purchase a new 1940 Chevrolet Super Deluxe convertible that had been damaged in shipping.  The old Model T chassis was discarded and the new chevy gave the wagon the sleek fenders and beautiful chrome finish that the wagon carries today.   


Mr. Sansone continued popping corn and selling ice cream and sodas at various locations in Champaign.  His most notable spot was near the corner of Church Street and Neil Street in the heart of Downtown Champaign.  This was a great location with proximity to department stores, the five and dime, the Park Theater, and the Rialto Theater.  Though incredibly popular with the public, Henry and his wagon fought a long battle with City government.  His father Frank had been forced off the street temporarily in 1907 as the City cracked down on sidewalk vendors and in 1954, Henry was arrested for selling popcorn on the street after the City Council enacted a new ordinance banning the practice.  On March 4, 1954, a jury returned a hung verdict in the case Henry was free to sell his popcorn on the streets once again.

Henry and his wife Lucille sold popcorn on the streets for more than 40 years until 1974 when he sold the wagon to Joan Macomber.  Henry passed away in June 1976.   


Joan continued the tradition in the wagon and popped corn on campus, especially on Sixth Street and outside Memorial Stadium on U of I football weekends.  However, by 1977 the truck had disappeared from the streets.  


Later that year a committee of the newly formed Champaign County Historical Museum discussed the idea of purchasing the truck as a fundraising tool.  On November 7, 1977, the truck was purchased by the Champaign County Historical Museum with the help of the City of Champaign and local donors including a "popcorn for life" card that was sold to the general public.  


Since that time, the truck has undergone a series of restorations. In 1982, the unsafe steam popper was replaced with an electric kettle made by the original Creator Company. After replacing the popper, the Champaign -Urbana Mass Transit District donated three years of labor to fully restore the worn-out truck and give the wagon a new 1967 Chevrolet engine, transmission, and rear axle. They also gave the wagon new power steering and brakes.

In 2022, a fundraising campaign was kicked off to help restore many of the missing decorative elements that had gone missing through the years.  Thanks to 78 individual donors raising more than $6,500, new nickel-plated corner rounds and "C" brackets were added, a brand new electric popper replaced the 1981 kettle, and a replica steam motor was returned to allow patrons to imagine the days of steam power.   Additionally, never before used, factory-boxed chrome hood trim pieces were found online to complete the 1940 look of the original Chevy Super Deluxe.

The decorative work was completed by Bob Pearson of Olathe, Kansas, who has the original Creator Tool and Die.  It was also thanks to his photo collection that we now have a photograph of our truck as it rolled off the Cretors factory floor.  Finally, the kettle was replaced straight from the Cretors & Co. factory, as they still produce popcorn machines for movie theaters and others from their Chicago area location.   

Today, the museum continues to take the wagon to special events around Champaign-Urbana.  The wagon is a living tribute to the Sansone family and one of the museum's most cherished pieces in our collection.  


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Help Restore our Popcorn Wagon

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History of the Sansone Popcorn Wagon
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