Cracker Jack

Cracker Jack

“Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don’t care if I never get back!”

“Take Me Out To the Ball Game” – Jack Norworth

Forever linked to baseball, thanks to the sport’s unofficial anthem, and beloved container of free toy prizes, Cracker Jack has put smiles on the faces of children and adults alike for well over a hundred years. Some even consider it America’s first junk food, a dubious distinction for a snack that may actually be more American than apple pie.

Cracker Jack was created in 1896 by German immigrants Frederick (“Fritz”) and Louis Rueckheim, two brothers who got their start selling popcorn on the streets of Chicago before the turn of the century. They created a molasses-coated version with peanuts added which was quite tasty.

The only problem was, it tended to clump together, making it hard to both package and eat. They solved this problem by adding a little oil to the mix, then tumbling the product in a device similar to a cement mixer. Once the popcorn and peanuts were coated with the fine layer of oil, no more clumps and no more sticky fingers.

The brothers trademarked the name in 1896 which came from someone who tasted the product and claimed “That’s Cracker Jack!” This was a compliment of the highest order back in the day. Still, sales were moderate at first until the product got some unexpected free publicity that (unknown at the time) would make it one of the most popular and well-known snacks of all time.

In 1908, a songwriter named Jack Norworth was riding a subway when he noticed a poster about an upcoming baseball game. He penned the song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” which made mention of Cracker Jack by name. The song proved so popular that it began being sung at baseball games. To this day, it is still sung in the middle of the 7th inning at every Major League ballpark in the country. Talk about some good marketing, and again, all for free.

Mix a great tasting product with some of the best word-of-mouth one could ever hope for and you have the makings for a monumental success. But Cracker Jack had another trick up its sleeve as well. In 1912, they decided to add a toy prize to every box. These toys were mostly plastic trinkets such as rings and figurines, but one never knew what awaited at the bottom of the box.

It might be stickers, a few jokes, temporary tattoos or a tiny booklet. A kid didn’t have to be a fan of baseball to understand that, given a choice of snacks, they wanted the one that included the toy, further fueling the product’s skyrocketing sales. Many dumped out the box immediately to get to the prize. Others dug around inside until they found it, but the fact remains, that toy prize put Cracker Jack over the top.

Another familiar face in the Cracker Jack world worthy of mention is that of Sailor Jack. He and his trusty dog, Bingo were introduced as official mascots in 1918 and continue to appear in advertisements for the product, as well as on every box. to this day. You may also remember that prolific character actor Jack Gilford (Catch-22, Cocoon) served as the television spokesman for Cracker Jack in many commercials that aired in the 60s and 70s.

Suffice to say, little has changed about Cracker Jack in the last century, other than the ownership of the company. Borden Foods acquired the snack in 1964, then sold it to Frito-Lay in 1997, who distributes the product today. There are still prizes, although they tend to be more of the paper variety nowadays. There are also a few more peanuts in each box than there used to be. Otherwise, it is the same great product that has put smiles on the faces of millions of children for a lot longer than any of us can remember.

Were you a fan of Cracker Jack as a kid? Can you remember any of the prizes you received? Better yet, did you dump out the box for the prize before eating? We hope you’ll share all of your Cracker Jack memories in our comments section below, as we tip our collective hats to this beloved and iconic snack treat.

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