History of Food

History of Food

Saturday, June 16, 2012

June 16, 1893 The Birthday of Cracker Jacks

There are any number of topics that could be discussed with this posting.  It is National Fudge Day.  Normally I would gravitate to fudge - I am a chocaholic. However, once I saw that it is the birthday of Cracker Jacks and this being one of my favorites - there was no way I was going to ignore this important day in one my favorites and in my small little world.

Cracker Jacks were started in America, but with a German immigrant named Frederick William Rueckheim.  He was employed on a farm with the goal of saving $200.  With this money he started selling popcorn that was made by hand method with steam machinery.  He sold the popcorn on 113 4th Avenue in Chicago, now known as Federal Street.  He started this entrepreneurial venture in 1871.  His target market was the workers who were rebuilding from the Great Chicago Fire destruction.  
Then in 1873 Rueckheim bought out his partner, Brinkmeyer.  With this buyout he brought his brother, Louis from Germany to America.  The company was now called F.W. Rueckheim  & Bro.  The Ruekheim duo bought candy-making equipment which started marshmallow and other confections to their business venture.  Between 1875-1884 the business moved five times with them settling with a three-story brick building at 266 South Clinton Street.  In 1887 this building was destroyed by fire. In 1893 the brother duo made combined peanuts, popcorn, and molasses.
1893 the first World's Fair in Chicago - called the World's Columbia Exposition which opened to show the world what progress Chicago had made since the fire of 1871.  The Ruekheim brothers decided to cover the popcorn with molasses.  The concept was billed as Candied Popcorn and Peanuts." People at the Worlds Fair didn't like the stickiness and the harness of the early Cracker Jack. With this public dislike, Louis made a formula that made a great molasses coating that was crispy and dry. This secret formula is still a secret in the Cracker Jack Company today.  
Legend has it that a customer or salesman tried the Rueckheim concoction and exclaimed  "That really a cracker - Jack!"  Actually the words "cracker jack was a slang expression in the 1890's meaning "something very pleasing."  The brother duo loved the name "Cracker Jack" so much their trademarked the name under F.W. Rueckheim & Brother of Chicago.  Their slogan was "The more you eat, the more you want" which was also copyrighted that year.   Up until 1899 Cracker Jack was sold in large tubs.  At this time the company started selling it in boxes.  This packaging method was invented by Henry Eckstein - who was part owner and partner.  He invented "waxed sealed package" which was moisture proof packaging.  This enabled Cracker Jacks to be massed produce and sell it worldwide.  
The 1908 song called Take Me Out To The Ball Game, written by Jack Norworth, vaudeville entertainer and songwriter, with the line, "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks"  immortalized Cracker Jacks. The song was first performed by Norworth's wife, soprano Nora Bayes, at the Ziegfield Follies and, by 1910, was a staple at all big league ballparks in America. The cry, "Getcha' peanuts, popcorn, and Cracker Jacks!"is still heard at sporting events and carnivals in America.
There wasn't always a prize in a box of Cracker Jacks. In 1910, coupons were included in the boxes which could be redeemed for prizes. It wasn't until 1912 that children's prizes (miniature books, magnifying glasses, tiny pitchers, beans, metal trains, etc.) were place in the boxes. The company slogan was "a prize-in-every-package." 
Fred Ruekheim's grandson, Robert (who died of pneumonia at the age of eight), was put on the box in his sailor suit with his pet dog Bingo. They called him "Jack the Sailor." Changes were made the outside of the boxes to have red, white, and blue stripes to show their patriotism during World War I.  In 1919, they became registered trademark logos.

 Cracker Jack Jingle

What do you want,
When you gotta eat somethin',
And it's gotta be sweet,
And it's gotta be a lot,
And you gotta have it now?
What do you want?

Cracker Jack!

What do you get,
When you open the top,
And look inside,
And smack your lips,
And turn it over,
And spill it out?
What do you get?

Cracker Jack!

Candy-coated popcorn, peanuts, and a prize...
That's what you get in Cracker Jack!

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