The product we know today as Animal Crackers came into being in 1902, but it they had existed in similar forms for generations. In the late 1800s, ‘Animals’ (animal shaped fancy cookies) were imported from England. Many of the small, local bakeries in America made different versions called 'Animals' or 'Circus Crackers'. Bakeries began to unite into larger companies with regional and eventual national distribution at the end of the 19th century. One of these was the National Biscuit Company. Packaging became an important factor in marketing on a national scale. Their ‘Animal Biscuits’ were officially renamed 'Barnum's Animals' in 1902. During the Christmas season, the package was redesigned as a circus wagon with a string attached to it, so it could be hung as a Christmas tree ornament. They sold for 5 cents, and they were an immediate hit.
In total there have been 37 different varieties of animal crackers since 1902. The current 17 varieties of crackers are tigers, cougars, camels, rhinoceros, kangaroos, hippopotami, bison, lions, hyenas, zebras, elephants, sheep, bears, gorillas, monkeys, seals, and giraffes. There are 22 crackers per box.
More than 40 million packages of these are sold each year, and they are exported to 17 countries. They are turned out at the rate of 12,000 per minute, and nearly 6,000 miles of string are used on the packages. Christopher Morley wrote a poem named for them.
Animal Crackers by Christopher Morley.
“Animal crackers and cocoa to drink, That is the finest of suppers I think; When I'm grown up and can have what I please I think I shall always insist upon these. What do YOU choose when you're offered a treat? When Mother says, "What would you like best to eat?" Is it waffles and syrup, or cinnamon toast? It's cocoa and animals that I love most!
The kitchen's the cosiest place that I know; The kettle is singing, the stove is aglow, And there in the twilight, how jolly to see The cocoa and animals waiting for me.
Daddy and Mother dine later in state, With Mary to cook for them, Susan to wait; But they don't have nearly as much fun as I Who eat in the kitchen with Nurse standing by; And Daddy once said, he would like to be me Having cocoa and animals once more for tea!”
But the most famous reference to Animal Crackers is most likely in the Shirley Temple film 'Curleytop', in which she sang "Animal crackers in my soup, Monkeys and rabbits loop the loop, Gosh, oh, gee, but I have fun! "