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Cracker Jack, Licorice Jack And Other Troublesome Varieties

Updated on August 27, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has spent 30 years working in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, and aerospace education for Active USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Cracker Jack, Established 1896

The COSI Classic Cracker Jack in 2009.
The COSI Classic Cracker Jack in 2009. | Source

Do You Like Cracker Jacks and Their Enclosed Toys?

The Hub Question was asked about the first toy packed into a Cracker Jack box.This brought back memories, including the old joke,

"Where'd you get your degree - in a Cracker Jack box?"

Capitalism and the practice of attracting buyers of goods and services with "premiums": and other advertising promotions will likely always be a cause for discussion in a country that supports commercial enterprise.

Toys and other "premiums" - some not so premium, however - have been given away with product sales for decades in America. I can think of many -

  • Toys at the shoe store in a treasure chest sitting by the fluoroscope machine. We would stick our feet inside the bottom of the machine, look at the bones via a veiwing device on the top of the machine, buy a pair of shoes, and be allowed to help ourselves to a toy. These were usually whistles on a key chain, a bag of marbles, a set of jacks and a rubber ball, and other games of the day.
  • In the 1930s, gas station began to give away drinking glasses with every purchase of gasoline. Glasses of this sort began to appear in laundry detergent boxes in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • How about the 1960s and Dolly Parton on the old Porter Waggoner Show? I felt bad because she had to do the commercials for Breeze detergent, with their giveaway towels inside - "You cain't buy 'em!" Even as a child, I was glad to see her get away from that gig! She did not look as if she was having fun.
  • Some magic Decoder Rings appeared in cereal boxes around World War II or before, to go along with radio and its 15-minute action/adventure and mystery shows.I don't know the drill back then, but by the 1970s in my region, kids cried for the cereals in the store until parents purchased it, then took home the boxes, opened them, upended them on the kitchen table, extracted the rings or whatever other toy was inside, and refused to eat the cereal. That is not "premium" value at all to parents on a budget.
  • Bazooka Bubble Gum -- It seems like that company packed comic strips into their gum beginning about 1776, but I know the company wasn't around then. People chewed paraffin before there was chewing gum.
  • Banks - They started giving away toasters with new savings account in the 1970s and stopped doing it in the 1970s.
  • Car Dealerships - In the mid to late 1980s, I went with a male cousin to look at automobiles. The salesman that spoke with my cousin did not speak to me, but handed me a very cheaply manufactured and printed cookbook. I threw it on the desk and my friend bought a car elsewhere. Not a premium car dealership, that.

Some of the toys in Cracker Jack were not worth much monetarily, but some of them were at least entertaining for a time. Today, catalogs are published for collectors of these toys.

Licorice Jack

For a short time, Crack Jack company also made "Licorice Jack." The box was the same size, but white, with a black combined silhouette of an African native standing or dancing in front of a hut and palm tree.

Explosive Taste and Name

The origin of the name "Cracker Jack" is not clear to me in university libraries, corporate explanations, Internet files or food history materials.

I have seen the term crackerjack used in literature published prior to the naming of the packaged popcorn and peanut treat, however, so I think it must be related to explosives used in mining in the 1800s or something to do with expert marksman of early US Army ranks or guerrillas under Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox.

Of course, popcorn seems to explode in the pan or popper, so that may be a related story.

Webster's dictionaries show that the word cracker used as an adjective for superior was recorded as first used in 1793. Since this was the Revolution and New Nation time period, it probably referred to the expert crack shots in the American Army. Exploding gunpowder comes into play in that reference.

If "jack" refers to the Union Jack of the English flag, then a crackerjack could be a colonist that felled a British soldier in the Revolution...just a guess.


Here's an interesting dictionary notation: "1890-95, Americanism; earlier crackajack, rhyming compound based on crack (adj.); -a- as in 'blackamoor; jack' in sense 'chap, fellow' " [Reference: Random House Dictionary]. -- Except, "blackamoor" is a slur for a black African. Thus, "Licorice Jack" was only a more visible slur than an old meaning of "Cracker Jack."

First Prizes and Toys - Three Sets of Cards

It seems that no one at Cracker Jack owned now by Frito Lay® remembers what the first toys in the boxes were. Collectors do remember that baseball cards for a now-defunct Federal League were some of the first to be offered.

The original company was founded in Chicago in 1893 for the World's Fair. In 1907, a set of 16 entertaining post cards could be collected if one bought enough Cracker Jack boxes. Baseball cards were issued in 1914 - 1915 (players like Stuffy McInnis and the famous Connie Mack). During WWI, cards containing riddles appeared.

After WWI, toys appeared. Some of the first included a cardboard boy with a movable arm showing he could eat Cracker Jack. Another was a cardboard baseball score keeper and a third was a series of standup cartoon animals.

In 1910, coupons were packed into the boxes and were good for prizes through the mail. In 1912, actual small toys were packed - magnifying glasses, comics, rings, charms, and others. Some collectors remember the baseball cards best, however.


Licorice Jack

COSI Columbus, The Center of Science and Industry, once displayed treats and toys from the early 1900s in a Street of Yesteryear. I saw all this when I took a class of GED students to COSI in the mid 1990s. The exhibit is named Progress today and takes visitors through a town from 1898 - 1962. It includes Cracker Jack premiums.

Blatantly displayed in the front of a showcase was one of the early white boxes used by Cracker Jack, prepared in white and black. The black silhouette figure of an African native and a hut on the front of the box, with the name Licorice Jack were considered "cute" at the time of manufacture. So was the story Little Black Sambo, a Golden Book which was also displayed with other kids' books. How insulting or offensive are these images today?

Instead of molasses, licorice candy was used as a coating for popcorn and peanuts in Licorice Jack. There is no longer any history of this product to be found anywhere, but someone probably still has a box at home to show friends. This reinforces the truth that all the history there is to know is not on the Internet.

Rerun Of Dark Flavors


Rerun Of Less Friendly Cracker Jack Varieties

Frito-Lay company tried a new line of Cracker Jack products called Cracker Jack'd in the 2010s.

Instead of Licorice Jack in a box with an African native on the front, one variety had a large dose of caffeine added by two tablespoons of ground coffee added to the mix. Thus, the rerun was still dark, but java instead of licorice.

Another type featured spicy pizza flavors. Buffalo hot wings influenced another variety. The bags of treats are black, with a ghostly outline of the Crack Jack sailor and his mascot dog.

The Prize was a Fun Fact: "A typical pencil can write 45,000 words or draw a line 35 miles long!"
The Prize was a Fun Fact: "A typical pencil can write 45,000 words or draw a line 35 miles long!" | Source

Prices Rising On Cracker Jack

Original Cracker Jack is more expensive today, proportionately, than in the 1960s of my memory.

Candy and treats were packed into smaller boxes at the same price at first, in order to increase company profits. Then the bags, candy bars, and treat boxes became smaller, while the prices increased. The same thing has happened with canned vegetables and coffee.

Couponing is becoming more difficult as well. Most coupons these days require the purchase of 2, 3, 10 or more of an item to receive a discount. Until about 1990, 1 item was enough and more stores offered double and triple coupon values. Today, you might find a 10-cent-off coupon for Cracker Jack. The prizes are not so much fun as the prizes of old.

For some fun at the store, what kind of prize would you like to see in a Cracker Jack box?

Prizes For Real

What kind of prize might you like to see in Cracker Jacks?

See results

© 2012 Patty Inglish MS


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thanks for adding more memories! I remember a magnifying glass in a box of Cracker Jack!

      The car dealership you mention surely lost customers over their joke. No wonder some folks hate salespeople.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 

      8 years ago from Southern Clime


      I bought a car at a dealership once. Near the close of the deal, I noticed a sign that I had not seen upon entering the office. It read: "Upon purchase, receive a year's supply of Coca Cola." I began wondering what I was going to do with that much Coke. After I completed everything and was about to walk out with my new keys, I remembered and requested the promised year's supply of coke. I was promptly given a 6-pak of coke and told with a big grin that if I would sip a teaspoonful each day, it would last a year. I told the salesman that this joke did not help his business. Although I would never buy a car for a premium, I do value integrity.

      When I was a child, I always looked forward to my Cracker Jacks "Surprise inside." The little toys were better back then. My favorite was a small magnifying glass. I still enjoy eating Cracker Jacks, but there are fewer peanuts in the boxes. When I buy them for my grands, they are never interested in the prizes. Another thought is that today's kids have so many sophisticated toys that small toys are not interesting anymore. If Cracker Jacks would upgrade their toys, they would have to upgrade their prices. I must give them their Kudos; they have made a lot of kids happy, especially in the past.

      There was a commercial that I have not seen for a while. I do not remember what was advertised; maybe it was Cracker Jacks. This is one of the lines: "What do you call a kid who can skate like that? You call that kid a cracker jack!"

      Thanks for sharing old memories and a great hub.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      You're probably right about the choking hazard call. Paper tattoos are not too much fun.

    • Lwelch profile image

      Lena Welch 

      8 years ago from USA

      Do you know if the end of toys was due to the FDA? I have wondered that because Kinder Eggs can't be sold stateside as they are a "choking hazard". I can't see how you would not know to not eat the plastic egg and the toys inside but I digress... I miss the toys. The paper doodads just aren't that interesting.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      I have heard of this card, but have no info on it. Contact your local antique dealer or the Cracker Jack company at their website.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I have what I beilieve is a very rare card from cracker jack

      It is a boy eating cracker jacks with a movable tap on his arm.

      Anyone that has any information about it please email me at

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 

      8 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      I never liked the taste of cracker jacks... well, I do now, but I didn't as a kid. Even so they were a strong part of culture growing up. I expected to see Cracker Jacks in people's homes, on tv, mentioned in books even. Love the tidbits of info all pieced together in this hub. Great topic! Maybe you can remember, wasn't there a book or movie that mentions a wedding ring that was given to someone that came from a Cracker Jack box?

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Patty,Oh you have written another Cracker Jack hub !!! But seriously i remember Cracker Jack and Bazooka Bubble Gum those were very cool back than, and at a great price has well . I really enjoyed reading your well written hub !

      Vote up and more !!!

    • breakfastpop profile image


      8 years ago

      Loved this hub and it really did bring back memories. When I was a kid and my Mom took me to the shoe store I stuck my feet in that machine and when I left I was given something called a "Shmoo". It was a big blow up thing kind of like a weeble. I wish I kept one! Up and funny and interesting too!

    • Johnkadu123 profile image


      8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      What a witty hub! I am absolutely amazed at the wealth of little titbits of information. This is perhaps the best example of how to really handle the culture wars without offending too many people. LOL.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      As a Cracker Jack fan, Patty, I remember learning that this product was introduced at the first World's Fair in Chicago in 1893 by Frederick (Fritz) William Rueckheim and his brother, Louis. It was called 'candied popcorn and peanuts.'

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 

      8 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Very enjoyable article. It seems nearly every time I go to the store anymore my intelligence is insulted. I've noticed many of the things you've said. You have to buy two or three of something, or spend $20, etc.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I remember some of the toys in cereal boxes. Cereal wouldn't have been bought ubless we ate it though. I love licorice but on popcorn?My mother saved coupons good on buying tableware from General Mills. Mother's Oats, a brand of oatmeal had dishes inside the boxes. These things seemed meaningful in times of scarcity.

    • starstream profile image

      Dreamer at heart 

      8 years ago from Northern California

      I can recall the taste of cracker jacks just reading your article. Brings back some fun memories. Your top photo is fabulous. Thanks for taking us down memory lane and revealing some things new to me.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I am old enough to remember with delight the cracker jack days featuring a "treasure" hid within. My brother and sister and I, filled with excitement, would empty our little boxes of cracker jacks all over the bed to see what our surprises were. Oh yes - the little box with the little sailor boy on the carton - how we loved being the recepient.

      You have described inflation briliantly Patty. I'm sharing this with my grandchildren, children and friends as well as posting it on FB, and more. This is my all time favorite hub by you.

      Do you provide tutoring for a hubber like me? Voted up and across!


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