Never too old for animal crackers

Published 7:30 am Saturday, February 18, 2023

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No matter your age, you probably have eaten those mild little crackers, known as animal crackers. And if you are an adult, animal crackers probably remind you of your childhood.

When was the last time you ate an animal cracker? Did you chomp down first on the head? The mid-section? The feet? And which animal was it you ate first? A lion? A tiger? Or maybe an elephant Or the koala bear, introduced in the early 2000s?

Whatever your choices, you never get too old for animal crackers. Don’t you enjoy opening the box to see what you find first? Even poetry and songs have been written about the little treats. If you are a Shirley Temple fan, you will recall that the dimpled darling sang “Animal Crackers in my Soup.” In her song and dance, she declared that she had fun swallowing animals one by one.

Christopher Morley, a prolific American author and poet, was mentioned in a children’s poem. It relates that even when a child grows up, “he shall always insist upon animal crackers and cocoa for supper.

The product evolved from animal-shaped crackers baked in England in the 1800s. They were eventually imported to America. In 2000, Nabisco celebrated the product’s 100th anniversary. In recognition of the event, they invited consumers to choose a new animal to include in the box. There were four to choose from: the walrus, the penguin, the cobra, and the koala. Guess which one received the lowest votes? (Hint: Who would want to stuff a cookie shaped like a cobra in their mouth?

A company source speaking on public radio said he did not believe the original crackers were sweet. In the early 1900s, a number of bakeries in the United States merged and became the National Biscuit Company. The product was called Barnum’s Animals.

Considering the name and the circus cage, one’s thoughts turn to the late circus owner P.T. Barnum. Although the product was named for him, he had nothing to do with it and never received any royalties.

In 1902 the little circus box was designed for the Christmas season. I always thought the little string on the box was intended as a carrying strap. Not so. It was meant to hang a box from the Christmas tree. The company uses thousands of miles a year on those colorful boxes.

In the 1900s, a box of animal crackers cost five cents. The current product name was changed to Barnum’s Animal Crackers in 1948. Of course, the price has changed, too.

Animal Crackers origins in England, but they are certainly one of the best examples of Americana I can think of.