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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 small town of Newton, Massachusetts.
As of 2012, in addition to the original fig filling, Nabisco also makes several varieties of the Newton, including apple cinnamon, 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 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.
$14.8 million was spent advertising Newtons in 2011. Advertisements are generally based on nostalgia and directed to baby boomers rather than children.