March 7, 2022

George Miller

Peanuts, Popcorn, and Cracker Jack

For some non-logical reason these three things—peanuts, popcorn, and Cracker Jack—are linked together as a phrase in my mind. It’s a fuzzy childhood memory, formed either at baseball games or circuses where vendors worked the crowds hawking the three to hungry kids like me.

And, of course, I remember the cellophane bags of nuts, paper bags of hot roasted peanuts, hot buttered popcorn at the Saturday afternoon movies, and those silver-foil, waxed boxes of Cracker Jack with the toy surprise inside. Whatever the reason, I’ve always collected the three topics together and grouped them under the heading “Peanuts, Popcorn, Cracker Jack.” So, even though the grouping makes logical sense (Cracker Jack is made from peanuts and popcorn), the real link here is one forged by memory.

The peanut is a fairly common postcard subject. Some of the nicest peanut postcards are the advertising issues done by Planters Peanuts featuring their trademark “Mr. Peanut.” This monocled, top-hatted, cane-carrying, spat-wearing, peanut-bodied figure was created in 1916, the result of a school-boy’s sketch submitted in response to a company contest. The term “Planters,” incidentally, was chosen in 1906 by founder Amedeo Obici, an Italian-born former fruit stand operator from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The name meant nothing; Obici said that it just sounded “important and dignified.” Planters pioneered the packaging of peanuts in cellophane packs and in vacuum-packed cans and was the force in promoting the popularity of peanuts as a snack food in the twentieth century.

In the early 1900s street vendors were familiar sights, and every self-respecting vendor needed a wagon. The truly rare postcard advertisement for peanut wagons manufactured by the Bartholomew Company of Peoria, Illinois, depicts the ten styles available: the Bosson wheels with glass cover; the Boss on wheels; the Rival; the Persuader; the Bonanza; the Ripper; the Improved Nickel Mint; the Columbia; the Stunner; and the Victor.

Other peanut products can be found on postcards as well. The “Ground Nut Cake” vendor is a favorite. It is a private mailing card by pioneer publisher H. A. Rost Printing and Publishing Company of New York City.

The card below is of the “Peanutine Wagon” at Old Orchard, Maine. Among the many treats for sale at Peanutine College Ices was a peanut molasses candy that was “guaranteed to be the best of all kisses.”

Popcorn, on the other hand, is not a common postcard subject. The Holiday Special below is the only pop corn advertising card so far. This undivided back card shows a colorful box of Snow Ball Shelled Rice Pop Corn. For $2.30, retailers could purchase 40 16-ounce packages for a little less than 6¢ a package.

The Hot Fresh Pop Corn machine is an undated chrome advertisement for the Auto-Pop Popcorn Machine, set to dispense 24 ounces of popped corn for 15¢. (Have you bought popcorn at a movie lately?)

An early comic, features the Popcorn Man. “The Popcorn man is jolly / And grins at me so funny / And if the penny I forget / He says ‘I need the money.’”

Popcorn can be a real photo topic, too. Dating from the late 1940s the real-photo above shows Jimmy’s “Popt­corn and Peanuts” Wagon in Brainerd, Minnesota.

A Real Photo of a Pop Corn vendor and what appears to be
his Victor Pop Corn Wagon manufactured by Bartholomew Company

Cracker Jack
It takes peanuts and popcorn to make Cracker Jack, and it started in the 1890s when F. W. Rueckheim of Chicago, owner of a popcorn factory, was experimenting with a new product. He mixed peanuts and popcorn and then dipped the mixture into a molasses syrup. He called one of his popcorn tasters to sample the result. “That’s a crackerjack!” the man exclaimed and so the name and the product was born.

The taster’s reply was a bit more understandable at the turn of the century for the term “crackerjack” was a common expression derived from “cracker” (a thing outstanding) and “jack” (a nickname). Written in a slightly different way, the expres­sion would have read “That’s a cracker, jack.”

In 1904 Cracker Jack introduced the first wax-sealed, mois­ture-proof package. It was also the first product to include toy surprises and those premiums are collector’s items today.

The symbol connected with the product is not, of course, the bears featured on the postcards, but instead a saluting sailor with his dog, Bingo. The company explains, “Prior to the first World War, Americans proudly displayed their patri­otism and Cracker Jack was no exception.”

Cracker Jack Bears Postcards
In 1907 Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein gave away a set of postcards. Apparently, a card was included in each package of the product. A complete set was also available free to anyone mailing in ten sides from Cracker Jack packages or 10¢ (in coin or stamps) and one side from a package.

Copyrighted by B. F. Moreland, these narrow, colorful cards feature the exploits of the Cracker Jack Bears—a story surely inspired by the RooseveltBears. The bears escape from the Lincoln Zoo in Chicago and set out in an airship made in part from a package of Cracker Jack. Their mission is to spread the word about this product throughout the “world” (although they never leave the United States until the final card when they set sail for Mars!). Four of the sixteen cards follow with a complete checklist of the cards and their messages.

The “Cracker Jack Bears” Messages
1. “Cracker Jack” bears from Lincoln Zoo Together away in an airship flew, and vowed that they would not come back Until the world ate “Cracker Jack.”   2. As off they sailed, they heard below The children shout a wail of woe, Said one, “Why not begin at home?” So “Cracker Jack” to earth was thrown.  
3. At Niagara Falls this daring bear I’m sure no one his deed would share No thought of fear can call him back His thoughts are all of “Cracker Jack.   4. “Hurray for liberty!” they cry, Who holds the lamp of freedom high, The only thing that she can lack Is just a box of “Cracker Jack.”  
5. To Coney Island, home of fun, The faithful airship quickly spun Once there, the people flocked to buy And “Cracker Jack” became the cry.     6. The “Cracker Jacks” to New York went Their hearts were full of good intent, While there they found each candy stand Sold “Cracker Jack” on every hand.
7. “Delighted” — said our nations head, For many years your sweets have led All the confections of our land, Congratulations — here’s my hand.   8. On shipboard off Virginia’s shore, The “Cracker Jacks” have made a score; And everyone at Jamestown Fair, The prize for them will sure declare.
9. Away to southward then they flew Where many acres of peanuts grew From there went many a heavy sack Of peanuts grown for “Cracker Jack.”   10. Next to the husking bee they went On happiness and good times bent And there the corn in many a sack Was ready to make into “Cracker Jack.”  
11. The circus with its gilt array Its sawdust, tinsel and display Is not complete if it should lack The customary “Cracker Jack.”   12. We’re a great success upon the field And with effect the bat can wield, But playing ball grows rather slack When we can eat good “Cracker Jack.”  
13. This is the time of “Cracker Jack” Where business never does grow slack We work away from morn til night. To make our sweets and make them right.     14. Here’s where we make our Cracker Jack In no appointments do we lack, Our cooks are competent and skilled And every order’s quickly filled.
15. “Oh Mr. Teddy drop your gun, For us such business is no fun, So please don’t keep us on the rack ’ Cause we’re the bears with Cracker Jack.   16. Then next they flew away to Mars, That lies high up among the stars, And there they found a great demand For “Cracker Jack” on every hand.  
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One reason I enjoyed this article was that I sold peanuts, popcorn, and Cracker Jack during my years as a vendor at the old Cleveland Stadium.

That Bartholomew Peanut Wagon salesman’s card is incredible. What a gem, and then to learn about the Cracker Jack Bears too. As my friend Mark Evans from Avon, NY used to say, “What a hobby.”

My husband bought a box of Cracker Jacks and the prize was just a little piece of paper. In my day, the prizes were really cool. It’s why we bought the box!

Very cool article. I enjoyed reading it. I love those Crackerjack bears, it was nice to learn the early story!

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