The world’s Fair of 1893 offered visitors a strange concoction of popcorn, nuts and maple syrup. This confection, unnamed at the time, was an instant hit with the public. For the next three years the inventors of the popcorn treat, William and Louis Ruedkheim, worked to find a way to keep the sticky confection from clumping together. They discovered that by adding a small amount of oil during mixing that the kernels of corn would remain separated. They packaged their tasty treat in a small box bearing a picture of “Sailor Jack” and his dog Bingo. They named it “Cracker Jack.”
While the snack has been regaled in song (”...buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks”) and consumed by millions, it is the “prize” in every box that has sustained it’s popularity for over one hundred years. Is there anyone among us who has not gone “digging” for that elusive “prize in every box?”
In it’s first six years of production Cracker Jack issued 144 different baseball cards featuring such greats as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson. Other early “prizes” included wooden toys, tin and metal machines and lithographic paper items. The odds of finding any of these pre-1920 pieces are very slim, but well worth the search. If you doubt me, just ask the Rochester, New York man who sent his collection of the 144 original baseball cards to auction where they brought $800,000.
An overview of the prizes through the years offers us a fascinating look at the trends and fads of America in the 20th century. The earliest prizes consisted of paper-dolls, yo-yo’s, baseball cards and song books. The first toys made of wood, tin and metal appeared in the late 1920’s. “Made in Japan” lithograph tin whistles were the best find in the 1930’s. During the 1940’s, propaganda and war toys were a favorite. With the end of the war, the 1950’s Cracker Jack boxes contained toys of a happier nature with dolls and colorful plastic animals being a common find. The race for space in the late 1960’s was reflected with space ships and polyethylene space men. Coin holders, magnifying glasses, and slot machines appeared in the 70’s and 80’s and the favorite toy of the 1990’s saw the return of paper goods in the form of metallic stickers. Cracker Jack toys have delighted children for decades. In fact, Cracker Jack is recognized as fact the world’s largest purveyor of toys, with a distribution of over 17 billions pieces since 1912.