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Newtons are a Nabisco trademarked version of the fig roll, a pastry filled with fig paste. Their unusual shape is a characteristic that has been adopted by many competitors including generic fig bars sold in many markets. They are produced by an extrusion process.
Until the late 19th century, many physicians believed that most illnesses were related to digestion problems, and recommended a daily intake of biscuits and fruit. Fig rolls were the ideal solution to this advice, although they remained a locally-produced and handmade product.
A Philadelphia baker and fig-lover Charles Roser in 1891 invented and then patented a machine which inserted fig paste into a thick pastry dough. Cambridgeport, Massachusetts-based Kennedy Biscuit Company purchased the Roser recipe and started mass production. The first Fig Newtons were baked at the F. A. Kennedy Steam Bakery in 1891. The product was named "Newton" after the town of Newton, Massachusetts.
As of 2012, in addition to the original fig filling, Nabisco also makes several varieties of the Newton, including strawberry, raspberry, and mixed berry. The Fig Newton also comes in a 100% whole grain variety and a fat-free variety. Fig Newton Minis have also been introduced. The fig bar is the company's third best-selling product, with sales of more than a billion bars a year. In 2011 a crisp cookie, Newtons Fruit Thins, was introduced in the United States after being successfully marketed by Kraft in Canada as Lifestyle Selections, a variety of Peek Freans.
In the 1939 animated Mickey Mouse short "Mickey's Surprise Party", Mickey gives Minnie many Nabisco products, one of which is Fig Newtons. Mickey claims that they are his favorite.
In the 1950s, for Saturday morning television, advertisements featured a cowboy singing, "Yer darn tootin', I like Fig Newtons."
In the 1961 version of the film The Parent Trap, Susan offers Fig Newtons to her sister while they are locked up together in the cabin.
In the 1970s, Nabisco ran an advertising campaign for the Fig Newton. The commercials featured actor James (Jimmy) Harder dressed like a fig. At the conclusion of the song, he struck the "Fig Newton Pose", leaning forward and balancing on his left foot, with arms spread and right leg raised behind him. In "Christmas Eve on Sesame Street", Cookie Monster says the name of this brand before he eats the whole typewriter.
When Grape Newtons were introduced in the wake of Cherry, Blueberry, and Apple (which came several years earlier), a chimpanzee appeared on the commercial, and the song "Yes, We Have No Bananas" played to the chimp's consternation.
American advertisements have most frequently featured a narrator with a British accent and other European themes, presenting the pastry as an elegant, sophisticated "adult" sweet that would appeal to the upper classes, rather than as a kiddie lunchbox snack. In the 1980s, Nabisco again produced the popular advertising slogan "A cookie is just a cookie, but a Newton is fruit and cake."
In 2007, Nabisco used the slogan "The cookie that thinks it's a fruit" to advertise Fig Newtons. The packaging of Newtons describes the product as "Fruit Chewy Cookies".
$14.8 million was spent advertising Newtons in 2011. Advertisements are generally based on nostalgia and directed to baby boomers rather than children.