Kids and adults have been enjoying this sweet & salty confection for over a century. The basic recipe was developed for the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago by brothers F.W. ('Fritz') and Louis Rueckheim, who threw together a mixture of peanuts, molasses, and popcorn. The two men had been operating a popcorn factory for some years; with this new item they found a sure-fire hit that would eclipse all of their other products.
The stuff didn't actually get its famous name for a couple of years, when a route salesman referred to the candy as a 'cracker jack,' or a sure hit. (It is also popular lore that Cracker Jack's slogan was created spontaneously by a hungry customer: "The more you eat, the more you want.") In 1908 the song "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" was released, with the line, 'Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,' which further solidified the product within the public's mind as a convenient, tasty treat.
In 1912 the brothers came up with a sales gimmick that would give their product a decided edge over rivals: since Cracker Jack appealed most to children, it was decided that some sort of little prize would be placed within each and every box. Whistles, animal figurines, booklets, whistles, and other such gewgaws would be packaged with the candy up until the present day. Over the ensuing decades, several billions of boxes and prizes have changed hands.
The familiar red-and-blue striping on the box became a fixture during World War I, when the U.S. government went all-out with its pro-war propaganda efforts and American businesses fell into lockstep. It was also about this time that the candy's official mascot, a blonde-haired boy in a sailor suit named Jack - as well as his dog Bingo - made his first appearance. Jack was almost certainly modeled on the then-popular comic strip character Buster Brown.
Cracker Jack is still a favorite American treat. In 1964, the brothers' operation - which had by this time sported the name The Cracker Jack Company - was purchased by Borden; it was sold to Frito-Lay in 1997. In 1999, the brand is advertised on television - the first time this has happened in fifteen years.
Although the prizes may not be as elaborate or enticing as in years past, the original flavor remains the same.