Who Invented Cracker Jack, the Classic Popcorn Snack?

A German immigrant invented this classic American snack

Cracker Jack display at the grocery store.

Mike Mozart/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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 this event.

The treat was a mixture of popcorn, molasses, and peanuts. The snack's first name was "Candied Popcorn and Peanuts."

Cracker Jack Character and Name

Legend has it that the name "Cracker Jack" came from a customer who, upon trying the treat, exclaimed, "that really a cracker — Jack!" The name stuck. However, "crackerjack" was also a slang expression that meant "something pleasing or excellent." This 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 dog Bingo were introduced in 1916 and registered as a trademark in 1919. Sailor Jack was modeled after Robert Rueckheim, grandson of Frederick. Robert was the son of the third and eldest Rueckheim brother, Edward. Robert died of pneumonia at age 8, shortly after his image appeared on boxes of Cracker Jack. The sailor boy image acquired such meaning for the founder of Cracker Jack, he had it carved on his tombstone, which is in St. Henry's Cemetery in Chicago. Sailor Jack's dog Bingo was based on a real dog named Russell, a stray adopted in 1917 by Henry Eckstein. He demanded that the dog be used on the packaging. 

The Cracker Jack brand has been owned 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, as it tended to stick together. The wax-sealed, moisture-proof box was introduced in 1899. Immortalized in 1908 in the lyrics of the baseball song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," Cracker Jack added surprises in each package.

Trivia

  • In 1912, toy surprises were first put into every Cracker Jack box. This tradition continued until Frito-Lay stopped the practice in 2016.
  • "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 is named Sailor Jack and his dog is called Bingo.
  • The Cracker Jack Company was sold to Borden in 1964.
  • In 1997, Frito-Lay purchased Cracker Jack from Borden.

Sources

Dawn, Randee. "Cracker Jack is replacing toy prizes inside with digital codes." Today, April 22, 2016.

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Baseball Almanac, 2019.