Chicago World's Fair Product Cracker Jack
The World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, in 1893, introduced many new inventions to the fair visitors. The fair had the first midway, the first Ferris Wheel, and the most number of nations with exhibits.
Many products were popularized at the fair. At the California Exhibit fresh oranges were used to build a display then given away or sold every few weeks. This was many peoples first introduction to citrus fruit. Aunt Jemima, condensed milk and Heinz Pickles were featured at the fair. One of the most enduring foodstuffs sold at the fair is Cracker Jack, still a popular treat over a hundred years later.
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VINTAGE CRACKER JACK AD
CREATION OF SNACK
F. W. Rueckheim was a German immigrant who moved to Chicago in the 1860’s. He diligently saved his wages from being a farm laborer. In 1871, Rueckheim used the $200 to open a popcorn stand in the city. It wasn’t until the 1880’s that commercial popcorn poppers were available, so he had to pop his corn over a wood stove.
The popcorn proved popular and the owner expanded into candy, including marshmallows, caramels and taffy made from molasses. The business also started to sell peanuts, which were just starting to become a popular snack. Peanuts were brought back north by Union troops and P T Barnum has started offering them at his circus in the early 1880’s.
In the early 1890’s, Rueckheim decided to unite 3 ingredients he had on hand; popcorn, molasses and peanuts. Popcorn mixed with hot molasses was a popular home treat, in the form of popcorn balls. So the recipe wasn’t really original, but he did add peanuts to the mix.
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The name for the product came from the slang term “Cracker” which at the time mean wonderful or excellent. “Jack” was a popular, friendly way to address people, like saying buddy or pal to an acquaintance. So saying “Cracker Jack” was like saying “Buddy, that’s great!” A friend who sampled the candy used the exclamation and the product name was born.
The product was on sale for a year or so before the fair started in 1893, but the Chicago World’s Fair really made the molasses popcorn mix popular. It was an inexpensive treat for fairgoers and continued to be a favorite snack after the fair.
Cracker Jack has always been sold in a box, but it didn’t always contain prizes. Early boxes had coupons in them, but no toys. It wasn’t until 1913 that a prize was placed in the package. Later baseball cards were included in some packages and were eagerly collected by children. Today, they remain very collectable.
In 1916, Jack the sailor and his dog, Bingo, first appeared in advertisements. Jack was modeled after Rueckhem’s grandson who died at the age of 8. The sailor boy and his dog became very popular and soon became the company’s trademark. Rueckheim had the image engraved on his tombstone and it is still on every package of Cracker Jack.
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