03 March 2009

Food & Drink: Cracker Jack

By Eliza Tucker

The more you eat, the more you want.

In 1908, Jack Norworth penned the song, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", the chorus of which became famous, and is still sung at baseball games today:

Katie Casey was base ball mad.
Had the fever and had it bad;
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev'ry sou Katie blew.
On a Saturday, he young beau
Called to see if she'd like to go,
To see a show but Miss Kate said,
"No, I'll tell you what you can do."

"Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game."

The official story tells that upon finding out his brother's secret for keeping the popcorn and peanuts from sticking together, Louis Rueckheim exclaimed, "That's cracker jack!" WH Rueckheim liked the term so much, he has it trademarked.

In 1899, Cracker Jack began to be sold in boxes, rather than tubs.
Henry Eckstein (1860-1935), a part owner and partner of the company, invented the "triple proof package" or "waxed sealed package," a moisture proof paper package to retain freshness. This new type of packaging allowed the company to mass produce and sell Cracker Jacks worldwide, and thus become a national icon.
-- What's Cooking America
In 1908, fifteen years after introduction of the molasses-covered candy and popcorn concoction at the World's Fair in Chicago, Norworth's song solidified the candy corn's place in American culture.

In 1912, Cracker Jack offered "a prize in every box." Some of these prizes? Miniature magnifying glass, tiny toys, booklets, Morse code charts, presidential cards, movie player cards, and novelty whistles. A collection of prizes can be found here.

In 1918, Sailor Jack and Bingo appear on the packages. Cracker Jack has been included in famous fiction works such as Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and the film Breakfast at Tiffany's. The US Navy's traditional uniform is called "The Cracker Jack," and July 5 is National Cracker Jack Day. Recently, a complete set (176) of 1915 Cracker Jack prize baseball cards was sold for $800,000 at auction.