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Cracker Jack is an American brand of snack consisting of molasses-flavored candy-coated popcorn and peanuts, well known for being packaged with a prize of nominal value inside. The Cracker Jack name was registered in 1896. The slogan "The More You Eat The More You Want" was also registered that year. Some food historians consider it the first junk food. Cracker Jack is famous for its connection to baseball lore. The Cracker Jack brand has been owned and marketed by Frito-Lay since 1997.
Frederick William Rueckheim—a German immigrant known informally as "Fritz"—sold popcorn at 113 Fourth Avenue, now known as Federal Street, in Chicago beginning in 1871. The popcorn was made by hand using steam equipment. In 1873, Fritz bought out his partner, Brinkmeyer, and brought his brother Louis Rueckheim over from Germany to join in his venture, forming the company F.W. Rueckheim & Bro. According to legend—an urban myth propagated to promote the brand by Borden Foods—states that Rueckheim produced a popcorn confection and presented it to the public at the World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago's first world's fair) in 1893. No evidence is known, however, that Rueckheim had an exhibit at the Columbian Exposition. In 1896, Louis discovered a method to separate the kernels of molasses coated popcorn during the manufacturing process. As each batch was mixed in a cement-mixer-like drum, a small quantity of oil was added—a closely guarded trade secret. Before this change, the mixture had been difficult to handle, as it stuck together in chunks.
In 1896, the first lot of Cracker Jack was produced, the same year the name was registered. It was named by an enthusiastic sampler who remarked: "That's a crackerjack!" (a colloquialism meaning "of excellent quality"). In 1899, Henry Gottlieb Eckstein developed the "waxed sealed package" for freshness, known then as the "Eckstein Triple Proof Package", a dust-, germ-, and moisture-proof paper package. In 1902, the company was reorganized as Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein. "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", a song written by lyricist Jack Norworth and composer Albert Von Tilzer, gave Cracker Jack free publicity when it was released in 1908 with the line: "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack!" In 1922, the name of the Chicago company was changed to The Cracker Jack Company.
Mascots Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo were introduced in 1918 and registered as a trademark in 1919. Sailor Jack was modeled after Robert Rueckheim, nephew of Frederick and Louis Rueckheim. Robert, the son of a 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. Russell died of old age in 1930.
The Cracker Jack Company was purchased by Borden in 1964 after a bidding war between Borden and Frito-Lay. Borden sold the brand to Frito-Lay parent PepsiCo in 1997, who quickly incorporated Cracker Jack into the Frito-Lay portfolio. In 2013, Frito-Lay announced that Cracker Jack would undergo a slight reformulating, adding more peanuts to Cracker Jack and updating the prizes to make them more relevant to the times.
On April 30, 2013, Frito-Lay expanded the Cracker Jack product line to include other salty snacks in the spirit of the original Cracker Jack. Called Cracker Jack'D, it is distinct from the original Cracker Jack by using black packaging instead of the traditional red and white, as well as showing a more menacing version of Sailor Jack & Bingo. In addition, unlike the original Cracker Jack, Cracker Jack'D has not featured prizes in its packages. One of the products available under the Cracker Jack'D line, Cracker Jack'D Power Bites, gained much criticism before its official launch due to accusations of unhealthy amounts of caffeine in the Power Bites.
Cracker Jack is known for being commonly sold at baseball games and is even mentioned by name in the American standard "Take Me Out To The Ball Game". On June 16, 1993, the 100th anniversary of Cracker Jack was celebrated at Wrigley Field during the game between the Cubs and the expansion Florida Marlins. Before the game, Sailor Jack, the company's mascot, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
In 2004, the New York Yankees baseball team replaced Cracker Jack with the milder, sweet butter toffee flavored Crunch 'n Munch at home games. After a public outcry, the club immediately switched back to Cracker Jack.
The Cracker Jack Company began advertising on television in 1955. Cracker Jack appeared on CBS-Television's "On Your Account" which was televised 130 stations nationally. A new television ad for Cracker Jack ran during Super Bowl XXXIII on January 31, 1999. It was the first advertising for the Cracker Jack brand on television in 15 years. The actor who appeared in many charming and classic TV commercials for Cracker Jack in the 1960s, was Jack Gilford. He was most recognized for being the rubber-faced guy on the "Cracker Jacks" commercials for a dozen years, from 1960-1972.
Cracker Jack includes a small "mystery" novelty item referred to as a "prize" in each box. These have included everything from temporary tattoos to decoder rings. The tagline for Cracker Jack was originally "Candy coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize" but has since become "Caramel coated popcorn & peanuts" under Frito-Lay.
Prizes were included in every box of Cracker Jack beginning in 1912. One of the first prizes was in 1914 when they produced the first of two Cracker Jack baseball card issues, which featured players from both major leagues as well as players from the short-lived Federal League. The prizes attained pop-culture status with the catch-phrase "came in a Cracker Jack box", referring to a product of dubious quality or durability. In recent years, toy and trinket prizes have been replaced with paper prizes displaying riddles and jokes. In 2013, the prizes became codes for people to redeem "nostalgic" games on the Cracker Jack app through Google Play for Android-powered devices.