Odebolt Popcorn - Cracker Jack Company

Odebolt History Pages

scannned from 1938 Fifty Years of Progress, Odebolt Chronicle

Company Official Tells Why Community Was Selected
Wanted Constant Supply of Uniformly High Grade Popcorn 
By E. R. Shields
Executive Vice President, The Cracker Jack Company
Source: "Fifty Years of Progress"; The Odebolt Chronicle, 
Vol. 51, Number 31, Thursday, August 25, 1938

The development of the consumption of popcorn closely follows the history and development of the CRACKER JACK Business.

The history of your community (Odebolt) is well known, its traditions fostered and engendered in the breasts of those sturdy pioneers, your forefathers, who carved a kingdom out of a wilderness, and whose same traditions carried on by their descendents today, are full of shining examples of strength, fortitude and foresight that has made your community "The Popcorn Center of the World."

Grew And Grew 

We, to a certain extent, feel that we have helped in a measure to bring this about. It didn't just happen – it grew and grew.

Although the records are scarce, it is almost certain that popcorn was known to the Indians of both North a nd South America long before Columbus discovered America. It did not, however, become important as an article of commerce until about 1889, or shortly after a little German boy by the name of Frederick William Rueckheim left Hamburg, Germany, in 1869, and started a little popcorn plant on East Van Buren Street in Chicago, Ill., in 1872, with a meager capital of $200. His start was made with one molasses kettle and one hand popper, together with an older man whose popcorn and confectionery business was destroyed in the great Chicago Fire of 1871. Business prospered immediately from its inception but the partnership arrangement was not satisfactory. So Mr. Rueckheim then bought out his partner and setn for his brother, Louis. The firm of F.W. Rueckheim and Brothers then came into existence.

This firm continued to prosper, producing a fine line of candies with its popcorn. No further change was made until 1899 when Mr. H.G. Eckstein, an old friend and fellow member in the Oakland Methodist church of Chicago, joined the organization, bringing to it an outside viewpoint that was of incalculable value. Just three years before, in 1896, the first lot of Cracker Jack had been produced and Mr. Eckstein, with his usual foresight, realized that the Cracker Jack flavor and crispiness could be protected by the proper package until it reached the hands of the consumer. The "Wax-sealed" package was his contribution to the solution of the problem. The invention made it possible to fasten a taste for this healthful confection on the public appetite, and delivered the Cracker Jack to the person who ate it just as it was the day it went into the package. This served again to increase the consumption of popcorn by leaps and bounds.

In 1902, a reorganization occurred and the firm name was changed for the first time in 30 years, to Rueckheim Bros. And Eckstein, and continued to be known by that name until 1922 when, because of the popularity of the product, the name was changed to The Cracker Jack Co.

Best Source

From 1872 until 1918, popcorn was purchased as needed, in the open market. In 1918 it was found that the consumption was growing so large as to make it impossible to get a uniform high grade of corn at a fair market price. CRACKER JACK was being consumed in so large a quantity that it was stimulating the market and running up the price of popcorn to the point where it would have become almost prohibitive. With the idea of stabilizing the situation an investigation was conducted to determine the best source for a constant supply of uniformly high-grade corn.

dpopcornelevators.jpg (67333 bytes)Where could our people look, but to the popcorn center of the world – Odebolt - your fair community? Negotiations were entered into and brought to a successful conclusion for the purchase of a popcorn plant owned and conducted by one of your oldest residents, Mr. August Petersmeyer, whose plant at that time consisted of an elevator and five or six cribs.

Shortly thereafter, or in 1926, an additional plant at Arthur, Iowa, was acquired but it has been found since that operating two plants was highly inconvenient and the Arthur plant was disposed of, leaving Odebolt in your community our principal source of supply.

The soundness of the judgment of our directors in 1918 has been amply demonstrated. Today about twice the number of cribs now dot the horizon and millions and millions of pounds of popcorn have passed through those cribs into the streams of commerce.

Flavor, Tenderness

At an early date is was discovered that the quality of popcorn depends upon its flavor and tenderness. Large expansion during popping is closely associated with tenderness, but it is desirable also because it means a large volume of the finished product from a given quantity of popcorn. Popping expansion depends upon three major conditions – the inherent structure of the kernel, moisture content, and in the proper application of heat. To accomplish those purposes, seed corn is scientifically grown on ground selected for its productiveness and a careful selection is made of the ears.

You have helped in our success and we feel in a measure that we have assisted in yours. While it is probably that popcorn is grown in every state in the union – the garden crop to supply the hom – your state easily leads all other states in the production of popcorn. The average acreage for Iowa during the 10 year period up to and including 1930, was 25,884 acres and the average yield was 1,606 to the acre. Most of this acreage is concentrated, in fact, in Sac and Ida Counties – Our Community. These figures are taken from the United States Department of Agriculture bulleting in which it is stated that our community Sac County in particular, raises more popcorn than any other county in the United Statea and probably more than any similar area in the world.

That is something to be extremely proud of and it is with a certain amount of pride that we consider ourselves a part of your community and have, in a measure, contributed to its prosperity.

Can we not say then with you on the Fiftieth Anniversary of The Odebolt Chronicle, "Continue, Odebolt, to Greater and Greater Heights!"

Millions of tons of Popcorn Processed by Company Annually

(Source – The Odebolt Chronicle Progress Edition, October 29, 1953, Volume 65, Number 44)

The firm of F.W. Rueckhelm & Bros. was established in Chicago in 1872 for the purpose of manufacturing popcorn specialties. By early 1900's production had been expanded to include a complete line of items ranging from Cracker Jack and marshmallows to bar goods, penny goods, bulk candies, packaged chocolates and other products.

In 1918, in order to secure popcorn to meet processing demands, a popcorn plant in Odebolt owned by August Petersmeyer was purchased. The plant then consisted of an elevator and six small cribs.

In 1922 the corporate name was changed to The Cracker Jack Company. The general office of the firm is at 4800 West 66th Street, Chicago, Ill. Around 1920 there was a trend to increase specialization in the confectionery field and the candy items were discontinued and efforts concentrated on Cracker Jack and marshmallows.

It is interesting to recall how the name "Cracker Jack" as applied to the popcorn confectionery and later to the firm name originated. In February 1896, F. W. Rueckheim was shown the first batch of molasses-coated popcorn, which his brother Louis had prepared. While sampling and tasting the confection, one of the company's salesmen enthusiastically exclaimed, "That's a cracker jack!" Mr. Rueckheim looked at him and said, "Why not call it by that name?" "I see no objection", replied the salesman. "That settles it, then", concluded Mr. Rueckheim.

Accordingly, the name Cracker Jack and the slogan, "The More You Eat, The More You Want", were copyrighted in 1896 and have been used continuously ever since.

Cracker Jack Cribs along the highway in Odebolt

The Cracker Jack Company's elevator, cribs, and office is now [1953] one of the most modern plants for handling popcorn in the state. Of the six original cribs with a capacity of three and one-half million pounds, four cribs were dismantled and replaced by many new ones. The present crib capacity is fifteen and a half million pounds of ear popcorn. A new elevator was erected in 1930 with a capacity of two million pounds of shelled popcorn.

In addition to the popcorn raised in the area the Odebolt plant receives popcorn from Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Missouri. Large sums are paid out for this popcorn. The local plant is under the management of H. C. Sommers. The personnel numbers on an average of nine persons throughout the years.

(Scanned from 1938 Fifty Years of Progress, Odebolt Chronicle)

Cracker Jack
Source: “As Time Goes By”, Odebolt, Iowa 1877-1977, printed by The Odebolt Chronicle May, 1977, page 226-7

......Cracker Jack was first sold with a prize inside in 1912.  The little sailor boy and his dog, Bingo, appeared on Cracker Jack boxes from 1919 to the present time.

...As farming practices have changed so have the popcorn handling and storage facilities.  As the corn picker is replaced by the combine, cribs must be replaced by shelled storage and drying facilities.

The Cracker Jack Co. was sold to Borden Inc., November 1963, and is now known as Cracker Jack - Div. Borden Foods, Borden Inc.  The company celebrated its centennial year in 1972.

Cracker Jack today is the largest user of popcorn in the world.  Their poppers are capable of popping 50,000 lbs. of popcorn a day producing 1,900,000 boxes of Cracker Jack a day.

The company has two processing plants in Illinois, and one in Indiana; however over 80% of the popcorn used in producing Cracker Jack flows through the Odebolt plant.

The present manager  of Cracker Jack at Odebolt is Carroll W. Stoneberg, a life-long resident of this community, who this year will have completed thirty years of service with the company.  Mr. Stoneberg assumed the position of manager at the retirement of Harry C. Sommers, in January 1960.  Mr. Sommers had been employed by the company for 33 years, and resided in Odebolt until his death Feb. 1, 1977.

Some fun facts:

1908 – In the third line of the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, the Cracker Jack brand is immortalized with "Buy me some peanuts and CRACKER JACK¨." More than 100 versions of the song have been recorded.  

1912 - "A Prize in Every Box" is introduced when toys are inserted into every package.  

1918 - SAILOR JACK and his dog, BINGO, first appear on packages.  Sailor Jack  was modeled after F.W. Rueckheim's young grandson, Robert.  

(compiled by B. Horak, March 6, 2002)

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