Nabisco’s Animal Crackers, which come in the familiar red box with what looks like a circus train full of colorful animals, is not the only brand of animal crackers. There are others. But Nabisco’s Animal Crackers have always been the most popular, not only because of the animal shaped cookies but because of the box in which they come. The boxes always came with a string which makes a great handle for a young kid to carry around. Today, that string has become a cardboard handle. 1
Why Do (Did) Animal Cracker Boxes Have Strings?
Believe it or not, the string was there because the boxes were originally meant to be a Christmas tree ornament, sold at Christmas for 5 cents a box. Whether or not anyone actually hung them on their tree, children have been using the strings as handles ever since.
Barnum’s Animal Crackers History
At first, they were simply called Barnum’s Animals. Today, over 40 million packages are sold each year.
Barnum’s Animal Crackers are named after P.T. Barnum, probably the most well-known circus owner in the world. The National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), introduced the cookies in 1902. Before this, sweet-tasting animal shaped “biscuits” had been around in Britain, and were simply called animals.
They made their way to the United States at least as early as 1883, when the earliest known recipe for “animals” was printed in Secretes of the Bakers and Confectioners’ Trade, written by J.D. Hounihan. Soon, big American bakers began producing them. Nabisco became the standard when they put theirs in the awesome red box.
Before this, the Dozier-Weyl Cracker Company and the Holmes and Coutts Company, both Nabisco predecessors, had been making them. And Stauffer Biscuit, which still makes animal crackers today, began making them in 1871. They were called animals or circus crackers. The 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia featured animal cookies made by Walter G. Wilson, who called them zoologicals.
Which Animals are in Animal Crackers?
Boxes of Barnum’s Animal Crackers have featured 37 different animals over the years. Bears, elephants, lions, and tigers have been around since the beginning, but others have come and gone. Now, a 2 ounce box (2.1 oz) contains 22 animal crackers and 19 different animals:
- 2 bears (one sitting, one standing)
- 1 bison
- 1 camel
- 1 cougar (or “mountain lion”)
- 1 elephant
- 1 giraffe
- 1 gorilla
- 1 hippo
- 1 hyena
- 1 kangaroo
- 1 koala
- 1 lion
- 1 monkey
- 1 rhinoceros
- 1 seal
- 1 sheep
- 1 tiger
- 1 zebra
Barnum’s Animal Crackers also come in other packages, such as a 1 ounce bag and in multi-packs.
Koala was voted in by consumers during the one-hundredth anniversary promotion, chosen over the penguin, walrus, and cobra. Of course, koala won. Everyone loves koalas!
Animal Crackers in My Soup
In the 1935 movie, Curly Top, Shirley Temple sang “Animal Crackers in my Soup.” “Monkeys and rabbits loop the loop,” she sang, but rabbits have never been in a box of animal crackers. Nabisco has used the Shirley Temple song in many commercials. Animal Crackers was also the name of a 1930 Max Brothers’ film. You can see the Shirley Temple singing Animal Crackers in Curly Top in the video below.
Barnum’s Animal Crackers are now made in Fair Lawn, New Jersey in a huge bakery with a 300 foot long conveyer belt oven. They are not only sold in the United States, but in 17 other countries.
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- Since I wrote this article the string has been removed from boxes of Animal Crackers, to be replaced by a built-in cardboard handle. I am not sure how recently this took place.