Exactly when and where the first animal-shaped crackers were made is not known, but by the late-1800's they were being into the United States from England by the barrel-full. The little goodies became so popular that bakeries began producing them locally, with Stauffer's Biscuit Company of York, Pennsylvania, being one of the first, in 1871. Before long almost every local bakery produced their own animal crackers, which were usually sold in bulk; each bakery had its own unique recipe and assortment of animals, so quality of taste and animal replication varied greatly.
The first company to sell animal crackers by the package was the National Biscuit Company, which was formed by the merger of several smaller companies in 1902. Barnum's Animals were originally produced as a limited edition Christmas item, which is why each 5-cent box had a string "handle" -- the "handle" allowed the box to be hung from a Christmas tree like an ornament. Barnum's Animals proved so popular that National Biscuit decided to make them a permanent addition to its product line. They were officially renamed Barnum's Animal Crackers in 1948. In 1958, National Biscuit refined its manufacturing process so that the features of each individual animal stood out better, making it much easier to tell whether you were about to bite into a lion or a bear. That same process is still used today, and each and every box of Barnum's Animal Crackers still comes with a string.
A total of 54 individual animals have been "turned into" animal crackers by Nabisco since 1902, with only two (dog and jaguar) being retired since then. The most recent addition to the menagerie is the koala, which was added for Nabisco's 100th anniversary in 2002; the koala won out over the penguin, walrus, and cobra in a nationwide consumer poll-contest. Including the koala, there are currently 18 animals in the "rotation" -- tiger, cougar, camel, rhinoceros, kangaroo, hippopotamus, bison, lion, hyena, zebra, elephant, sheep, bear, gorilla, monkey, seal, and giraffe being the other 17. Barnum's Animal Crackers are still being produced in the Fair Lawn, New Jersey, plant where they were "born," albeit in much greater numbers -- approximately 12,000 are produced every minute, and over 40 million boxes (requiring approximately 8,000 miles of string) are sold a year, in 18 countries.
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This page was last updated on 12/25/2012.