Cracker Jack dates to one of my favorite home town/historical events, the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition. It was there that two German immigrants, Frederick and Louis Rueckheim, began selling a concoction of popcorn and salted peanuts held together by a molasses-based binder. Popular as it was at the exposition, fairgoers found the caramel-like coating a bit on the sticky on the fingers and between the teeth. So, the Rueckheims went back to the drawing board and came up with a secret formula for a crunchy, candy-like binder that is still a trade secret. They received a trademark for their creation — named “Cracker Jack” after a popular phrase of the day — in 1896, and began selling it under the slogan “the more you eat the more you want.” And brother, they weren’t kidding. Cracker Jack is one of a trio of snack foods that I do my best to avoid because I have so little self control around it (the others are Cheez-Its and double-dipped chocolate peanuts).
The iconic Cracker Jack box came along in 1899, though it would be another 13 years before the Ruekheims hit on the idea of tucking a small prize into every one. In 1908 a vaudeville singer and songwriter by the name of Jack Norworth (who, interestingly, had never been to a baseball game) wrote the song Take Me Out to the Ballgame, which in a matter of just two years permanently tied Cracker Jack to the American national pass time. Cracker Jack has been a kids staple ever since, and while I haven’t been able to dig up any figures about how many boxes the Cracker Jack Company sells each year, I do know that since 1912, Cracker Jack has given away 23 billion prizes.