Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Columns

June 25, 2014

Linda Hamer Kennett: A surprise in every box

The world’s Fair of 1893 offered visitors a strange concoction of popcorn, nuts and maple syrup.

This confection, unnamed at the time, was an instant hit with the public. For the next three years the inventors of the popcorn treat, William and Louis Ruedkheim, worked to find a way to keep the sticky confection from clumping together. They discovered that by adding a small amount of oil during mixing that the kernels of corn would remain separated. They packaged their tasty treat in a small box bearing a picture of “Sailor Jack” and his dog Bingo. They named it “Cracker Jack.”

While the snack has been regaled in song (”...buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks”) and consumed by millions, it is the “prize” in every box that has sustained its popularity for more than one hundred years. Is there anyone among us who has not gone “digging” for that elusive “prize in every box?”

In its first six years of production, Cracker Jack issued 144 different baseball cards featuring such greats as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson. Other early “prizes” included wooden toys, tin and metal machines and lithographic paper items. The odds of finding any of these pre-1920 pieces are very slim, but well worth the search. If you doubt me, just ask the Rochester, New York man who sent his collection of the 144 original baseball cards to auction where they brought $800,000!

An overview of the prizes through the years offers us a fascinating look at the trends and fads of America in the 20th century. The earliest prizes consisted of paper-dolls, yo-yo’s, baseball cards and song books. The first toys made of wood, tin and metal appeared in the late 1920s. “Made in Japan” lithograph tin whistles were the best find in the 1930s. During the 1940s, propaganda and war toys were a favorite.

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