How Popeye’s obsession with spinach was created from glaring misprint

Mistake from scientist led to signature feature of iconic cartoon

Popeye reaches for a can of spinach in a still from an unidenitified Popeye film, c. 1945. (Image by Paramount Pictures/Courtesy of Getty Images) (Paramount Pictures, Getty Images)

One of the most iconic cartoons of all time is “Popeye the Sailor,” and believe it or not, there is a day that has been created to honor the fictional character.

That day is today, but before any fans of the cartoon delve into celebrating Popeye The Sailor Man Day, they might not know how spinach consumption became the source of Popeye’s strength and a signature staple of the cartoon.

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It actually came about due to a mistake from a scientist.

The illustrator of the cartoon, E.C. Seegar, chose spinach as the source of Popeye’s strength — and the way to get energy to defeat the bad guys — mainly because he read on a label that spinach had lots of iron in it.

The problem was that it didn’t have as much iron as Seegar thought.

In 1870, German chemist Erich Von Wolfe wrote up that spinach contained 35 milligrams of iron per 100-gram serving, but he misplaced a decimal point.

He meant to write it up as 3.5 milligrams, and that wasn’t corrected until 1937. But by then, Popeye had well been established as a series of cartoons (it started to be shown in theaters in 1933).

In fact, Popeye was credited with saving the spinach industry in the 1930s because the cartoon was credited with creating a 33% increase in sales, according to Business Insider.

Of course, it’s not like spinach is a bad vegetable for Popeye to consume for strength.

It’s loaded with an assortment of vitamins, minerals, nutrients and antioxidents that have a numerous health benefits, including reducing the risk of damage to the brain and nervous system, maintaining gastrointestinal health, muscle growth, bone and skin health, helping with vision and keeping blood sugar stable.

There are also some potential side effects of consuming spinach, and both pros and cons are listed in this article by MedicineNet.

But as fans of Popeye pay tribute today, the tale of his obsession with spinach is a life reminder that sometimes glaring mistakes can lead to incredible success stories.

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.