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The History of Cracker Jack

Cracker Jack was invented by the German immigrant Frederick William Rueckheim. He and an unnamed partner began selling sweetened popcorn under the name Reliable Confections in Chicago in the 1870s. When Rueckheim’s partner lost interest, he went into business with his brother Lewis instead. They sold their product — “Candied Popcorn and Peanuts” (popcorn and peanuts mixed with molasses) — at the Columbian Exposition, but sales didn’t do well. The experience inspired them to return to their factory kitchen and experiment. By 1896, they had come up with a way to make the molasses less sticky and messy (it remains a trademarked secret today). They offered it to people to taste, and according to The Chicago Daily Tribune, a foreman at the company liked it so much that he exclaimed, “Why that’s cracker jack!”  (Cracker jack was a then-popular slang term that meant “first-rate.”) The foreman’s reaction inspired the Rueckheim brothers to use Cracker Jack as the name of their product. In 1899, Henry Gottlieb Eckstein (who worked with the brothers) presented a packaging idea for a waxed sealed box. This innovation allowed Cracker Jack to be packaged for shipping, a huge step for the company, and in appreciation of the magnitude of this contribution, the brothers reorganized the company into Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein in 1902. They also acquired their iconic tagline, which is still in use today, around the same time: “The More You Eat, The More You Want.” In 1908, Jack Norworth and Albert von Tilzer wrote “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which immortalized Cracker Jack’s connection to baseball. In 1910, the company added coupons to the boxes, and in 1912, small prizes were introduced. Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo were added to the packaging during World War I, in part because anti-German sentiment was high and the Rueckheims were originally from Germany. (Sailor Jack was modeled after Frederick Rueckheim’s grandson, Robert, and Bingo was modeled after Henry Eckstein’s dog.) In 1922, the company name was changed to the Cracker Jack Company, and it remained a family-owned business until 1964. Today, Frito-Lay owns Cracker Jack; the iconic treats remain popular and their connection to baseball remains strong.

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