Popeye, The Spinach-Loving Sailor Turns 95
“I’m strong to the “finich”, ’cause I eats me spinach!” When you were a kid, do you remember your mom trying to get you to eat spinach because Popeye loved it? Eh, didn’t really work on me but now I’ll eat it from time to time! Popeye is a beloved cartoon character who first appeared on January 17, 1929, in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre. After a while, Popeye became the stand-out character, and Thimble Theatre was renamed to Popeye, featuring the loveable sailor and later his girlfriend Olive Oyl, adopted son Swee’Pea, and many more.
To celebrate his 95th birthday and his lifelong love of spinach, the Good Housekeeping Institute awarded him the GH Nutritionist Approved Emblem. Stefani Sassos, the GH Institute’s Nutrition Director and a registered dietitian said, “Around the time of the Great Depression, when Popeye first appeared in a comic strip, the American diet was sorely lacking in important nutrients, which was especially concerning with regard to children. Eating spinach activated Popeye’s superhuman strength, and he set an important example for adults and children.”
January 17 also celebrates National Popeye the Sailor Man Day. The comic strip hero is also a good way for kids to learn about loyalty, strength, and confidence… not just the joys of spinach. Yet it turns out that his appetite for spinach came about from an error! Cartoon illustrator E.C. Seegar decided to make Popeye eat a lot of spinach to garner strength and beat the bad guys after believing that spinach had a lot more iron in it than it really did.
He learned this from a misprint. In 1870, German chemist Erich Von Wolfe accidentally wrote that spinach contained 35 milligrams of iron per 100-gram serving when he really meant to write 3.5 milligrams. The error wasn’t fixed until 1937… years after the Popeye cartoon came out. Unfortunately, things like this happened back in the day and while spinach is a good source of iron, it isn’t THAT good.
Even so, Popeye reportedly saved the spinach industry in the 1930s because sales increased 33% after people started loving Popeye. The love of Popeye translated to more than just a comic strip. There have been movies including one with Robin Williams as Popeye and even a spot for the character at the Universal theme park in Florida. You can get soaked on Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges in Universal Islands of Adventure if that’s your thing. To commemorate his special day today, why not add a little spinach to your meal?
Toot, Toot! The spinach eating sailor, Popeye, turns 90 (July 14, 2023). Expert Fred M. Grandinetti shares the history of this beloved comic icon and his pals.