April the 18th is National Animal Crackers Day. How did a cracker/cookie get so popular? I loved animal crackers, figuring out what animal it was and biting their legs and head off was great fun. I even liked carrying that box around by the string handle. I decided to find out the history behind them.
A small cracker or cookie in the shape of an animal, usually, from a zoo or circus like a lion, a tiger, a bear, or an elephant. They are sweet in flavor like cookies but they are made with a layered dough like crackers.
In the late 1800’s these biscuits were known as “Animals” in England. At first they were imported into the United States but grew so popular that bakers started producing them locally. Stauffer’s Biscuit Company produced their first batch in York, Pennsylvania, in 1871.
Other bakeries like Dozier-Weyl Cracker Company of St. Louis, and the Holmes and Coutts Company of New York City, were the predecessors of the National Biscuit Company, today’s “Nabisco Brands”.
In 1902 they became known as Barnum’s Animals and evoked the Barnum and Bailey Circus themed boxes. That box was originally designed to be a Christmas tree ornament. Up until this time the crackers were typically sold in tins (the proverbial “cracker barrel”).
In 1958, production methods changed to improve the cookies’ visual details. There has been 53 different animals represented since 1902. The current box has 22 crackers with a variety of animals . They are in the oven for about 4 minutes and the bakeries are producing about 12,000 crackers a minute. 40 million packages of Animal Crackers are sold per year.
The Barnum’s current animals are bear, bison, camel, cougar, elephant, giraffe, gorilla, hippopotamus, hyena, kangaroo, lion, monkey, rhinoceros, seal, sheep, tiger, and zebra. They added the Koala in 2002. The crackers are all produced in the Fair Lawn, New Jersey, bakery by Nabisco Brands
Stauffer’s animal crackers include bear, bison, camel, cow, cat, donkey, elephant, hippopotamus, horse, lion, mountain goat, rhinoceros, and tiger. They are made in vanilla, chocolate graham, cinnamon graham, “cotton candy” and icing-covered variants, as well as “breakfast cookies” made with oats, almonds, cranberries, and pomegranate.
Austin Zoo Animal Crackers currently feature bear, camel, elephant, lion, monkey, owl, penguin, rabbit, ram, rhino, turtle, and zebra
Cadburys Animals are chocolate coated and feature crocodile, elephant, hippo, monkey, lion, tiger, and toucan