Cracker Jacks touted war effort in 1918

Published 2:34 am Saturday, January 28, 2017

Who are Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo?

Maybe today’s youngsters might not be as quick answering that question as those of my generation will. If you are familiar with the boxed snack with a little boy in a sailor suit and his dog, you know I am referring to Cracker Jack. Inside are molasses flavored, caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts.

Too, you will remember Cracker Jack’s mystery prize right away. It enticed us to rip into the box to dig our treasure out—something such as decoder rings, stickers, baseball cards, and plastic figurines enclosed in paper. And you might think about baseball, since Cracker Jack was mentioned in a song. “Take Me out to the Ball Game,” written and composed by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tizer, had the line, “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack.” The song’s appearance gave a boost to the product.

I discovered that Cracker Jack snack was introduced in 1896. It originated from a business started by German immigrant, Frederick (Fritz) William Rueckheim, who sold popcorn on the street in Chicago. He made his brother Louis his partner in the business. That must have been a smart move, because Louis found a method to separate the molasses-coated popcorn so it did not cling in clumps.

How was it named? It is said that when someone sampled it, he was so excited that he exclaimed, “That’s a crackerjack!” Young Robert Rueckheim was the model for Sailor Jack, whose image first appeared in advertisements in 1916. The dog was said to be modeled after a stray belonging to a partner of the company. Their pictures were printed on every Cracker Jack box beginning in 1918.

In 1918, Cracker Jack sold for eight cents a box and 15 cents for two. It was touted that year in an ad as a snack “Our Jackies (sailors, I presume) and Soldier Boys Enjoy.” The advertisement also promoted the war effort with a picture of Cracker Jack and Bingo beside the words, “Enlist in the U.S. Navy.”

Other quotes from the ad praised Cracker Jack as “The World Famous Food Confection,” and continued, “The crisp deliciousness and quality of Cracker Jack especially appeal to the healthy appetite of our boys in khaki and blue.” In bold letters, the paragraph concluded with, “The More You Eat, The More You Want. Everyone likes Cracker Jack This ideal confection contains much less sugar than most confections, yet satisfies the candy appetite. Eat More Cracker Jack—Save Sugar and Wheat.” The ad continued, mentioning the ingredients and method of packaging.

PepsiCo , parent company of Frito-Lay owns Cracker Jack today. A mystery prize in every box, which began in 1912, is now replaced with paper prizes of riddles and jokes. Instead of “Candy-coated popcorn and a prize,” today’s tagline reads “Caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts.”

Sadly, young Robert Rueckheim died of pneumonia at the age of eight, but the familiar image of Sailor Jack still continues on the box alongside that of Bingo



Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business. Her column appears on Saturdays.