Animal Crackers, since 1902

 Curio & Co. looks at the power of packaging with classic childhood treat Animal Crackers in a Barnum's Animals Circus Wagon Box. Kitchen Cabinet, animal crackers, packaging as toy, vintage circus. Curio and Co.

Sometimes, you need to think inside the box.

The way food is presented to you can really affect the way you think it tastes. Shows like Bizarre Foods certainly bear this out. This is why food producers spend a lot of time and money on the packaging for their products, so you’ll not only pick it up at the supermarket, you’ll also enjoy it enough to buy it again and again.

And sometimes those packaging gimmicks are the best part of the product. For me, this is the appeal of animal crackers.

Don’t get me wrong, animal crackers are tasty. On their own, however, I wouldn’t really give them much of a thought. But show me those same animal-shaped crackers in a little circus wagon box with a string handle, and they suddenly taste better. And for over a hundred years, plenty of other people have thought so too.

Cookies cut in the shapes of animals have probably been around for as long as parents needed to keep kids quiet, but some time in the late 19th century, factory-made cookies shaped like animals began to be popular. At first they were sold in bulk in large barrels (hence a “cracker barrel”), but in 1902 cookie maker Nabisco (then still known as the National Biscuit Company) tried their hands at some clever branding and packaging. Seeking to cash in on the popularity of the circus, they changed the name of their animal crackers to Barnum’s Animals, after the well-known Barnum and Bailey Circus. For the Christmas season that year, they packaged the crackers in circus wagon boxes with a string added to allow the boxes to be hung on Christmas trees. Needless to say, they have been a big hit with kids ever since.

When I was a kid, the box was what made animal crackers so much fun to eat. Sure, it was amusing to bite the heads off the animals and see if you couldn’t match them up with another body in some cookie-based Island of Dr. Moreau. (What, you never did that?) But when you gathered all your saved boxes together you had one of the largest circuses for your little Fisher Price people to visit. I’d use brads to connect all the boxes in a train of circus wagons, and parade through the little LEGO villages to let them know the circus was in town.

And let’s face it – they’d flock to the circus once they heard there was a live buffalopotamus on display!