Published August 6, 2018 In blog
In 1847 England, confectioner Tom Smith in his search for new ways in which to advertise his business's sweets created the Christmas cracker. After seeing the idea in France, Tom started first by wrapping his sweets in squares of paper eventually including with them various love mottoes (ref:1). His customers loved them, his business grew and thus began the history of the cracker as a branded promotional product.
Wanting to build on his sales momentum, Tom added a 'snap' to his crackers. Tradition has it that this idea occurred to him while listening to the crackling sounds from his fireplace. Using silver fulminate, a highly unstable chemical (though safe in the small quantities required to make snaps), Tom created a satisfying 'cracking' sound which his customers loved. (ref:2)
In the face of growing sales, Tom eventually dropped the sweets from his crackers, adding a small 'gift' to each cracker. It was his son, Walter, who is responsible for adding the paper 'crown' to each cracker in the early 1900's and about 1930 the love mottoes were replaced by the iconic cracker jokes we are familiar with today. (ref:3)
Originally calling this crackers 'bonbons' (a term many people continue to use today) he later changed them to 'cosaques', thought to be named after the 'Cossack' soldiers who had a reputation for riding on their horses and firing guns into the air! (ref:4)
As a custom branded product tool, Tom's smith crackers were an overwhelming success and a an enduring product in their own right as well. The Tom Smith business moved to larger premises in Finsbury Square, employing 2,000 people by the 1890s (ref:5) including "Outworkers", mostly women with young children who worked making the crackers from their own homes, sometimes in small groups of 3 or 4 women together.
Today, Custom Branded Crackers continue to grow in popularity advertising all kinds of services, products, re-branding campaigns and promotions as well promoting corporate brands at holiday and fund-raiser events.
(1) Canadian Christmas Traditions, Festive Recipes and Stories From Coast to Coast – DeeAnn Mandryk
(2) Read Chris Payne's account of how the snaps were made
(3) Adding hats and jokes to the Christmas Cracker
(4) The History of Christmas Crackers
(5) "The Christmas Cracker", Victoria & Albert Museum