Cracker Jack

A German immigrant named Frederick Rueckheim invented Cracker Jack

A German immigrant named Frederick "Fritz" William Rueckheim invented Cracker Jack, a snack consisting of molasses-flavored caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts. Rueckheim came to Chicago in 1872 to help clean up after the famous Chicago fire. He also worked selling popcorn from a cart.

Together with brother Louis, Rueckheim experimented and came up with a delightful popcorn candy, which the brothers decided to mass market. Cracker Jack was first mass-produced and sold at the first Chicago World's Fair in 1893. (The Ferris Wheel, Aunt Jemima pancakes, and the ice cream cone were also introduced at the event.)

The treat was a mixture of popcorn, molasses, and peanuts and the initial name was "Candied Popcorn and Peanuts."

The Name Cracker Jack

Legend has it that the name "Cracker Jack" came from a customer who upon trying the treat exclaimed "That really a cracker - Jack!"  and the name stuck. However, "crackerjack" was also a slang expression at that time that meant "something very pleasing or excellent" and that is more likely to have been the origin of the name. The Cracker Jack name was registered in 1896. 

Cracker Jack's mascots Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo were introduced as early as 1916 and registered as a trademark in 1919. Sailor Jack was modeled after Robert Rueckheim, grandson of Frederick. Robert, the son of the third and eldest Rueckheim brother, Edward, died of pneumonia shortly after his image appeared at the age of 8. The sailor boy image acquired such meaning for the founder of Cracker Jack that he had it carved on his tombstone, which can still be seen in St. Henry's Cemetery in Chicago. Sailor Jack's dog Bingo was based on a real-life dog named Russell, a stray adopted in 1917 by Henry Eckstein, who demanded that the dog be used on the packaging. 

The Cracker Jack brand has been owned and marketed by Frito- Lay since 1997.

The Cracker Jack Box

By 1896, the company devised a way to keep the popcorn kernels separate, the mixture had been difficult to handle because it tended to stick together in chunks. The wax-sealed, moisture-proof box was introduced in 1899. Immortalized in 1908 in the lyrics of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," Cracker Jack added surprises in each package in 1912.

Cracker Jack Trivia

  • In 1912, toy surprises were first put into every Cracker Jack box, since then over 17 billion toys have been put into boxes (1986 estimate).
  • "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," written in 1908 by Norworth and Von Tilzer contains a reference to "Cracker Jack" in the lyrics.
  • The boy on the Cracker Jack box image (left) is Sailor Jack and his dog is called Bingo.
  • The Sailor Jack character, and his dog Bingo, were introduced as registered trademark logos in 1919 and in use as early as 1918. They were modeled on F. W. Rueckheim’s grandson, Robert, and his dog.
  • The Cracker Jack Company was sold to Borden in 1964.
  • In 1997, the current manufacturers Frito-Lay purchased Cracker Jack from Borden.