The Cracker Jack candy treat has been around for a long time, and even in my own lifetime (some 50 years) not much has changed to this long standing product. Still the box has the familiar sailor boy saluting us with his trusty dog by his side. Can you remember the names of the two characters?
Manufacturers have an eerie fondness for hypothetically laying their products end-to-end and reporting the results. So I feel obliged to play along and tell you that if all the Cracker Jack snacks ever sold were thus deployed, the trail of peanuts and popcorn would stretch around the earth more than sixty-nine times. And presumably make a lot of squirrels very happy.
According to corporate lore, an early form of Cracker Jack was introduced in 1893 at the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago's first world's fair, by the candy-making firm of F. W. Rueckheim and Brother. Popcorn, Cracker Jack's primary ingredient, had been invented by American Indians long ago, and some New England tribes had been known to coat their popcorn with maple syrup to preserve it. But coating the corn with molasses, as Frederick William Rueckheim had done, had produced only sticky globs until his brother, Louis, developed a secret method (still a company secret, by the way) of keeping the popcorn from sticking together. The inspired addition of peanuts made the Rueckheims' confection a crowd-pleaser. Just what they called their mixture at first is unrecorded, but in 1896 Louis gave a sample to a salesman who exclaimed, "That's crackerjack!" F.W. chimed in with "So it is."
At the time, crackerjack was a current popular slang adjective meaning "excellent," "exceptionally fine," or "splendid," and as a noun meant "a skillful or expert person." The root of crackerjack is an antiquated sense of the verb to crack meaning "to boast or act boldly," coupled with jack, the proper name used as a generic synonym for "thing or person" (the same sense underlying the automobile jack). This "boast" sense of crack is still heard in the sort of short, sharp comment known as a crack, as well as in the derogatory term cracker applied to poor southern whites, which originally derided white residents of Georgia as boastful and foolishly bold.
Rueckheim promptly ran out and trademarked Cracker Jack as well as the slogan "The more you eat, the more you want." The next few years saw Cracker Jack prosper due to several good ideas and one stroke of incredible luck. The company developed its foil-sealed boxes in 1902, and in 1912 decided to put small prizes right in the box, rather than, as other companies did, enclosing coupons that had to be redeemed by mail. But its real lucky break came in 1908 with the hit song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer (neither of whom had ever been to a baseball game at the time), which included the line "Buy me some peanuts and Crackerjack :" The song was a home run for Cracker Jack, and put the company (now owned by Frito-Lay) well on its way to girding the earth with peanuts and popcorn.
Kids today, even with their wide variety of candy treats to choose from, can always find some enjoyment opening a box of Cracker Jack. If not for the tastiness inside, but for the surprise treat which usually doesn't disappoint creative young minds.
And for those itching about trivia for Cracker Jack, Sailor Jack and his dog, Bingo, were the names of the box images.
Over the years, the company has gone through some ownership changes. In 1964 Borden Co. purchased the Cracker Jack company and in 1997 Frito Lay purchased the brand from Borden. And in both instances, the brand never lost any of its charm.
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