And Their Fascinating History
First made in 1850 by a London sweet maker called Tom Smith who decided it would a fun idea if his sweets and toys opened with a crack when their fancy wrappers were pulled in half.
In early 1830, Tom Smith started work in a bakers and ornamental confectioners shop in London, selling sweets such as fondants, pralines and gum pastilles. He worked hard and took particular interest in the wedding cake ornaments and decorations, experimenting and creating new, more exciting and less crude designs in his spare time.
Before long he was successful enough to leave and start up his own business in Goswell Road, Clerkenwell, East London.
On a trip to Paris in 1840, he discovered the ‘bon bon’, a sugared almond wrapped in a twist of tissue paper. He brought the ‘bon bon’ to London and they sold extremely well, but in January demand virtually ceased and once again he was reliant on sales of cake and table decorations and ornaments.
Anxious to stimulate sales, Tom placed a small love motto in the tissue paper and encouraged his regular customers to takes supplies. Tom took a risk and concentrated on developing it further, while still running the wedding cake ornament and confectionery business.
The majority of ‘bon bons’ were sold at Christmas so Tom thought up ways to capitalise on this short but very profitable season. It was the crackle of a log as he threw it on his fire that gave him the flash of inspiration which eventually led to the crackers we know today.
A ‘ crackle’ added excitement to his novelty ‘bon bon’ so he experimented to find a compound which gave a satisfactory bang. He perfected his chemical explosion to create a ‘pop’ caused by friction when the wrapping was broken and the trade jumped at Tom Smith’s latest novelty.
He quickly refined his product by dropping the sweet and the ‘bon bon’ name, calling his new crackers Cosaques, but he kept the motto and added a surprise gift. Delighted at his overnight success, Tom took his cracker abroad but an Eastern manufacturer copied his idea and delivered crackers to Britain just before Christmas.
So Tom designed 8 different kinds of cracker, working his staff day and night and distributing stocks in time for Christmas. He lived to see the new branch of his firm grow to swamp the original premises in Goswell Road and the company moved to Finsbury Square in the City of London where it remained until 1953.
When he died he left the business to his three sons, Tom Henry and Walter. A few years later, a drinking fountain was erected in Finsbury Square by Walter Smith in memory of his mother, Mary, and to commemorate the life of the man who invented the great British Cracker.
His three sons developed the cracker designs, contents and mottoes. Walter Smith, the youngest son, introduced a topical note to the mottoes which had previously been love verses. Special writers were commissioned to compose snappy and relevant maxims with references to every important event or craze at the time from greyhounds to Jazz, Frothblowers to Tutankhamen, Persian Art to The Riviera. The original early Victorian mottoes were mainly love verses.
Eventually these were replaced by more complicated puzzles and cartoons, and finally by the corny jokes and riddles which characterise our crackers today. Walter also introduced the paper hats, many of which were elaborate and made of best tissue and decorative paper on proper hatmakers stands and he toured the world to find new, relevant and unusual ideas for the surprise gifts, such as bracelets from Bohemia, tiny wooden barrels from America, and scarf pins from Saxony. Some were assembled in the factory, like the thousands of tiny pill boxes filled with rouge complete with powder puff.
A six foot cracker decorated Euston Station in London, and in 1927 a gentleman wrote to the Company enclosing a diamond engagement ring and 10 shilling note as payment for the ring to be put in a special cracker for his fiancee. Unfortunately he did not enclose an address and never contacted the Company again; the ring, letter and 10 shilling note are still in the safe today.
In the early days, there was a large variety of specialist boxes, including Wedgwood Art Crackers from original designs by permission of Josiah Wedgwood and Sons, and designs such as Japanese Menagerie crackers containing the latest novelties from Japan, including animals, birds, reptiles and mottoes in Japanese.
Crackers were created for the War Heroes, Charlie Chaplin, The Wireless, Motoring, The Coronation and even the Channel Tunnel in 1914.
Exclusive crackers were also made for members of the Royal Family and still are to this day. During the Second World War restrictions were placed on the production of cracker snaps.
The Ministry of Defence commissioned Tom Smith to fold and tie bundles of three to six snaps together with special string and regulation knots. These bundles were then used by soldiers in training as, when the string was pulled, they mimicked the noise of machine gun fire. After the war, vast quantities of these surplus cracker snaps were released back into the cracker trade. As the demand for crackers increased, Tom Smith merged with Caley Crackers in 1953 taking over their headquarters and factory in Norwich, East Anglia.
Tom Smith Group Limited currently hold a royal warrant from: HM QUEEN ELIZABETH II Ê 1906: Tom Smith were granted their first Royal Warrant by the then Prince of Wales which entitled them in 1909 to become members of the Royal Warrant Holders Association.
1910: In December, the reigning monarch, King George V granted Tom Smith his warrant as suppliers of Christmas Crackers.
Tom Smith still holds the honour of producing special crackers each year for the Royal Household.
Go here for more about crackers and TOM SMITH
In the countries that now use them, a cracker is set next to each plate on the Christmas dinner table and a colourful party hat, a toy or gift and a festive joke falls out when the cracker is pulled in half with a loud bang!
The party hats look like crowns, supposedly to symbolise the crowns worn by the Wise Men.