August 19, 2013

Cracker Jack a sweet trip down memory lane

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the words “Cracker Jack”? 

Is it baseball and the song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” or perhaps the 1960s television jingle “Candy-coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize ... that’s what you get in Cracker Jack!”? Maybe it’s the scene from the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” where the jeweler is asked to engrave a Cracker Jack ring and he replies, “Do they still really have prizes in Cracker Jack boxes?” 

More than likely, that’s exactly what comes to mind — the toy surprise that was hidden inside each and every sweet, crunchy box of Cracker Jack.

Just ask anyone who grew up in the 20th century, and the answers are sure to be the same because Cracker Jack has been around for 120 years, and prizes have been included in the boxes for 101 years. Today, collectors go nuts for antique and vintage Cracker Jack toys. Collector clubs, books and Internet sites dedicated to the hobby are popping up all over the place.


It all began back in the late 1800s when Frederick “Fritz” Rueckheim came to America from Germany to work on the rebuilding of Chicago after the great fire of 1871. Eventually, Fritz found his calling as a popcorn vendor, selling from a cart on the city’s sidewalks. In the early 1890s, he concocted a recipe for molasses-coated popcorn and peanuts, and with the help of his brother, Louis, they developed a way to mass produce the crunchy treat.

The Rueckheim brothers first introduced “Candy Coated Popcorn & Peanuts” at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The name Cracker Jack came about in 1896 after a person sampling the product exclaimed, “That’s a cracker jack!” (At the time, “cracker jack” was a slang term used to describe something that was innovative or marvelous.)

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