1871 to 1909: The Early Years of Cracker Jack

Cracker Jack from 1871 to 1909

The story of Cracker Jack is a story of the American dream.

In 1871, Frederick William Rueckheim and a partner opened a street stand in downtown Chicago to sell popcorn. It was shortly after the Great Chicago Fire and Fritz, as Frederick was known, had invested his hard-earned savings into a new beginning that would become a family business and, eventually, a snack brand empire.

A Kernel of a Dream

In 1873, after a couple of years working as a popcorn vendor, Frederick "Fritz" Rueckheim bought out his partner in the popcorn stand they had opened in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire.

Fritz had emigrated to America from Germany at the age of 14 to work as a farm laborer. Through hard work he saved $200 and used that money to open a popcorn stand with an elderly man who had lost his shop in the Great Fire. After buying out his partner, Fritz set his sights on building his venture. First step was to bring over his younger brother Louis from Germany. With Louis, Fritz expanded his offerings and began selling marshmallow and other candy confections to great success. They called their fledgling company F.W. Rueckheim and Brother.

Under this new company, the brothers worked hard at expansion, moving six times in just over a decade as demand for snack products grew. They sold mostly in bulk and they experimented to create new offerings including a molasses covered popcorn and peanut snack that was the precursor to Cracker Jack.

Cracker Jack is Born

As legend would have it, the snack that would become known as "Cracker Jack" was introduced to the world courtesy of 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the first World's Fair in Chicago. The "candied popcorn and peanuts" became a popular treat, but was criticized for being too sticky, too hard. So Louis Rueckheim worked to improve the product developing the manufacturing process that prevented the candied popcorn kernels from clumping while keeping the popcorn morsels crispy and dry. The new version of the snack food was released in 1896, the same year that it got it's name--Cracker Jack.

According to the Cracker Jack Collectors Association website, Cracker Jack got it's name from a salesman who declared "That's a crackerjack!" in appreciation of the tasty treat. At the time, the exclamation "That's a crackerjack" meant a good thing, like "that's great!" or "that's excellent!" The name stuck and F.W. Rueckheim and Brother trademarked it for their popcorn confectionery. During this time, they also copyrighted the slogan "The more you eat, the more you want."

In 1896, Cracker Jack was still distributed in huge wooden tubs and sold primarily in bulk to retailers. To increase distribution, the Rueckheims partnered with Henry Gottleib Eckstein who, in 1899, developed a moisture-proof, "waxed sealed" package known as the "Eckstein Triple Proof Package." This new form of packaging enabled the Rueckheims to easily ship "fresh" Cracker Jack throughout the United States. As distribution expanded, so did Cracker Jack popularity. In 1902, F.W. Rueckheim and Brother was reorganized as Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein and Cracker Jack was on its way to becoming a national favorite.

"Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack"

Cracker Jack was immortalized in the song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" which included the memorable line "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack" in the chorus. While the song was written in 1908, it wouldn't be until decades later in 1934 that the song would actually be played at a ballpark. Since then, the song has become North American baseball's unofficial anthem forever cementing baseball and Cracker Jack, the all-American pair.