Children love popcorn, especially if a caramel coating adds sweetness and flavor to each piece. Mix in some peanuts, and the result is a simple yet surefire taste treat. These three ingredients—popcorn, caramel, and peanuts—make up Cracker Jack, a snack that is an essential part of the American childhood experience. Adding to the fun of purchasing Cracker Jack is that included in each box is a small toy, made even more enticing by being labelled a "prize."
The origin of Cracker Jack dates to 1871, when a German immigrant named Frederick William Rueckheim (1846–1934) began selling a popcorn snack on a Chicago street corner. Customers loved his confection (sweet treat), but they were bothered by the stickiness of the caramel. This problem was resolved when Louis Rueckheim (1849–1927), Frederick's brother, invented a secret process that kept the caramel dry and crispy. Around this time, Louis offered the popcorn-peanuts-caramel mixture to a salesman, who declared, "That's a crackerjack" (a popular slang term meaning very good). The brothers liked the salesman's pronouncement and named their product Cracker Jack. The new popcorn snack made its debut in 1893 at Chicago's Columbian Exposition, the city's first World's Fair (see entry under 1900s—The Way We Lived in volume 1).
In 1908, Cracker Jack was immortalized in a song that was to become a favorite of baseball fans. In "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," lyricist Jack Norworth (1879–1959) penned the line, "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack." Then in 1912, small toys were added to each box. In ensuing decades, over seventeen billion prizes have been "awarded" to Cracker Jack purchasers. Among the numerous Cracker Jack prizes offered across the years are miniature plates, puzzles, books, bookmarks, pinball games, plastic figurines, and self-adhesive stickers. The product's logo, consisting of an illustration of a boy named Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo, was introduced during World War I (1914–18).
Over the years, Cracker Jack has been marketed in a Butter Toffee flavor and in a fat-free version. The Cracker Jack company also sells other products, including Checkers Popcorn, Campfire Marshmallows, and Angelus Marshmallows. Still, its first product, based on Frederick William Rueckheim's original formula, remains the company favorite.
For More Information
The Cracker Jack Box.http://pw1.netcom.com/~jeepers/CJBhome.html (accessed December 14, 2001).
White, Larry. Cracker Jack Toys: The Complete, Unofficial Guide for Collectors. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1997.