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Popeye’s Spinach Fetish Is Bad Science — A Stray Decimal Point

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A stray decimal point led to Popeye’s spinach fetish. He’d have gotten more iron from eggs, pork, or even brown sugar.

The original study of spinach’s iron content had been conducted in the 1890s, long before computerized data, and the results were handwritten. However, according to T.J. Hamblin in the December 1981 British Medical Journal, German chemists reinvestigated this “miracle vegetable” in the 1930s. What did they find? The original researchers had misplaced a decimal point, accidentally multiplying the iron content in spinach tenfold.

Well, blow me down.

Thanks in no small part to Popeye, spinach consumption increased 33 percent from 1931 to 1936. Today, three U.S. cities have monuments honoring the sailor for his endorsement of the leafy green:

  • Chester, Illinois, hometown of Popeye creator E. C. “Elzie” Segar has a statue of the character in Segar Memorial Park.
  • Alma, Arkansas, is the headquarters of the Popeye Spinach Company, and they’ve placed an eight-foot-tall fiberglass Popeye in front of their Chamber of Commerce building.
  • Crystal City, Texas, which calls itself the “World Spinach Capital,” has a painted Popeye statue behind their police station.
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  • Dr Sutton

    Sorry guys but you’ve been had.

    1. The decimal point story is a hoax.

    2. Segar chose spinach for Popeye for its vitamin A content – never iron.

    The proof is here (PDF).

    The lesson is don’t believe everything you read in the British Medical Journal!

  • laura lopez macias president Crystal City Spinach Festival

    just would like to set the record straight. Crystal City Texas does not call it self the “world spinach capital. This community was honored with the Title “Spinach Capital of The world” Sometime during 1936 Ernest Mortenson of the Winter Garden Chamber of Commerce suggested sending a note of appreciation to E.C. Segar for his promotion of spinach through his Popeye cartoons. E.C. Segar was the originator of the famous spinach-eating hero of the high seas. He replied to the Chamber letter, assuring them that spinach was his favorite food and that he wanted all his children to enjoy eating this nutritious food. His letter was printed in the local paper the Zavala Sentinel and eventually found its way to the San Antonio Express News. A reader of that paper, O.P. Schnabel, suggested that a Popeye statue be built funded by public donations. Plans for the statue were made and sent to Segar for approval; he loved the idea of having a statue that would symbolize the nutritional value of his beloved spinach. Mr. Segar-the cartoonist that drew popeye-sanctioned the creation of the statue in Crystal City, and drew a special cartoon with Popeye, Olive Oyl and Wimpy coming to the Crystal City Spinach Festival.

    On March 26, 1937 the Popeye statue was dedicated and Schable visited to help dedicate the scultpture “To All The Children Of The World.” Two local beauties, Marion Brennan and Doris Williams, posed on the Popeye statue for National Geographic Magazine issue of this month and year.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Iron shmiron. Spinach is the food of the gods. I’ll eat it no matter what minerals are in it… possibly excepting highly enriched plutonium.

  • JC Mosquito

    ……… but there IS a Spinach Santa, who crawls through your central air conditioning on the 35th of July and sets a delightful spinach salad with mayonaise dressing at your breakfast table for when you get up.

  • I’m disappointed – this is worse than discovering there’s no Santa. 🙁

  • “You won’t get Popeye-like forearms from it, though.”

    Thank goodness!

  • But spinach is still good for you. It’s rich in a lot of different vitamins, including folic acid.

    You won’t get Popeye-like forearms from it, though.

  • This just goes to show you that humans do make mistakes from time to time.