|Product type||Caramel coated popcorn and peanuts|
|Owner||PepsiCo (via Frito-Lay)|
|Previous owners||The Cracker Jack Company |
Cracker Jack is an American brand of snack food that consists of molasses-flavored, caramel-coated popcorn, and peanuts, well known for being packaged with a prize of trivial value inside. The Cracker Jack name and slogan, "The More You Eat The More You Want", were registered in 1896. Some food historians consider it the first junk food.
Cracker Jack is famous for its connection to baseball lore. The Cracker Jack brand has been owned and marketed by Frito-Lay since 1997. Frito-Lay announced in 2016 that the prizes would no longer be provided and had been replaced with a QR code which can be used to download a baseball-themed game.
The origin of sugar-coated popcorn with a mixture of peanuts is unknown, but periodicals document the manufacture and sale of sugar-coated popcorn in America as far back as the early 19th century. The Freeport, Illinois Daily Journal newspaper published on January 29, 1857, for example, contains an advertisement by a local merchant selling sugar-coated popcorn.
Recipes for popcorn and peanut mixtures were mentioned in American literature and expressions of speech:
- Page 4 of the Friday, August 23, 1867, edition of the Evening Star newspaper published in Washington, D. C. contains the notice: The Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror says, "Peanuts and Popcorn were not mixed up with piety when we first knew camp meetings, nor cigar smoking nor Psalm singing. But the times are changed and we with them."
- An inquiry was published on page 362 of the December 5, 1885 issue of Scientific American, asking how the sugar coating was prepared after the popcorn had popped.
- Page 222 of the 1886 edition of the Pennsylvania Historical Review, Gazetteer, Post-Office, Express and Telegraph Guide lists Goodwin Brothers, 105 North Front Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as manufacturers of Sugar Coated Popcorn, Prize Balls, Corn Balls, Corn Cakes, etc.
In Chicago there are two legends of how Cracker Jack originated: The older attributes it to Charles Frederick Gunther (1837-1920), also known as "The Candy Man" and "Cracker-Jacks King"; the other attributes it to Frederick William Rueckheim, a German immigrant known informally as "Fritz", who sold popcorn at 113 Fourth Avenue (now known as Federal Street), in Chicago beginning in 1871. The Rueckheim legend is filled with exaggerations, since sugar-coated popcorn with molasses and mixed with peanuts was already known by the 1860s. The Rueckheim popcorn was made by hand, using steam equipment. In 1873, Fritz bought out his partner William Brinkmeyer and brought his brother, Louis from Germany to join in his venture, forming the company F.W. Rueckheim & Bro.
The Rueckheim Brothers produced a new recipe including popcorn, peanuts, and molasses, and first presented it to the public at the World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago's first World's Fair) in 1893. Unfortunately, the molasses of this early version was too sticky.
In 1896, Louis discovered a method to separate the kernels of molasses-coated popcorn during the manufacturing process. As each batch was mixed in a cement-mixer-like drum, a small quantity of oil was added—a closely guarded trade secret. Before this change, the mixture had been difficult to handle, as it stuck together in chunks.
Naming and packaging
In 1896, the first lot of Cracker Jack was produced, the same year the product's name and tagline; "The More You Eat, the More You Want", were registered. It was named by an enthusiastic sampler who remarked: "That's a crackerjack!" (Crackerjack is a colloquialism meaning "of excellent quality").
In 1899, Henry Gottlieb Eckstein developed the "waxed sealed package" for freshness, known then as the "Eckstein Triple Proof Package", a dust-, germ-, and moisture-proof paper package.
In 1902, the company was reorganized as Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein.
In 1907, the release of the song, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", written by the lyricist Jack Norworth and composer Albert Von Tilzer, gave Cracker Jack free publicity, with its line: "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack!"
In 1922, the name of the Chicago company was changed to The Cracker Jack Company.
Cracker Jack's mascots Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo were introduced as early as 1916 and registered as a trademark in 1919. Sailor Jack was modeled after Robert Rueckheim, grandson of Frederick. Robert, the son of the eldest of the Rueckheim brothers, Edward, died of pneumonia shortly after his image appeared at the age of 8. The sailor boy image acquired such meaning for the founder of Cracker Jack that he had it carved on his tombstone, which can still be seen in St. Henry's Cemetery in Chicago. Sailor Jack's dog Bingo was based on a real-life dog named Russell, a stray adopted in 1917 by Henry Eckstein, who demanded that the dog be used on the packaging. Russell died of old age in 1930.
The Cracker Jack Company was purchased by Borden in 1964 after a bidding war between Borden and Frito-Lay and was manufactured for years in Northbrook, Illinois. Borden sold the brand to Frito-Lay parent PepsiCo in 1997, and Cracker Jack was quickly incorporated into the Frito-Lay portfolio. Frito-Lay transferred production of Cracker Jack from Northbrook to Wyandot Snacks in Marion, Ohio soon thereafter.
In 2013, Frito-Lay announced that Cracker Jack would undergo a slight reformulating, adding more peanuts and updating the prizes to make them more relevant to the times.
On April 30, 2013, Frito-Lay expanded the Cracker Jack product line to include other salty snacks in the spirit of the original Cracker Jack. Called Cracker Jack'D, it is distinct from the original Cracker Jack by using black packaging instead of the traditional red and white, as well as showing a close-up version of Sailor Jack & Bingo. In addition, unlike the original Cracker Jack, Cracker Jack'D has not featured prizes in its packages. One of the products available under the Cracker Jack'D line, the Power Bites, gained much criticism before its official launch due to accusations it contains unhealthy amounts of caffeine.
On June 16, 1993, the 100th anniversary of Cracker Jack was celebrated at Wrigley Field during the game between the Cubs and the expansion Florida Marlins. Before the game, Sailor Jack, the company's mascot, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
In 2004, the New York Yankees baseball team replaced Cracker Jack with the milder, sweet butter toffee-flavored Crunch 'n Munch at home games. After public outcry, the club switched back to Cracker Jack.
Toys and Prizes
Cracker Jack originally included a small "mystery" novelty item referred to as a "Toy Surprise" in each box. The tagline for Cracker Jack was originally "Candy-coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize", but has since become "Caramel-coated popcorn & peanuts" under Frito-Lay.
Prizes were included in every box of Cracker Jack beginning in 1912. One of the first prizes was in 1914, when the company produced the first of two Cracker Jack baseball card issues, which featured players from both major leagues as well as players from the short-lived Federal League. Early "toy surprises" included rings, plastic figurines, booklets, stickers, temporary tattoos, and decoder rings. Books have been written cataloging the prizes, and a substantial collector's market exists.
Until 1937, Cracker Jack toy prizes were made in Japan. They were designed by Carey Cloud from 1938. Many metal toys were also made by TootsieToy, who also made Monopoly game markers. During World War II prizes were made of paper.
The prizes attained pop-culture status with the catch-phrase "came in a Cracker Jack box," particularly when applied sarcastically to engagement and wedding rings of dubious investment value. The pop singer Meatloaf used the phrase "ain't no Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Crackerjack box" in his 1978 hit "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad".
Under Frito-Lay, toy and trinket prizes were replaced with paper prizes displaying riddles and jokes, then temporary tattoos. In 2013, some prizes became codes for people to play "nostalgic" games on the Cracker Jack app through Google Play for Android-powered devices. The announcement was made in 2016 that these gameplays would replace tangible prizes.
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- Food portal
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