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Animal cracker refers to a particular type of small cracker or cookie baked in the shape of an animal, usually an animal one might see at a zoo or circus, such as a lion, tiger, bear, or elephant. The most common variety is light-colored and slightly sweet, but darker chocolate-flavored and colorful frosted varieties are also sold. Although animal crackers are made with a layered dough like crackers, they are sweet like cookies.
There are other popular animal-shaped crackers and cookies, such as Teddy Grahams, Goldfish, Hello Panda and Koala's March. These differ from traditional animal crackers in flavor and assortment, and are not usually called animal crackers.
In the late 19th century, animal-shaped cookies (or "biscuits" in British terminology) called "Animals" were imported from England to the United States. The demand for these crackers grew to the point that bakers began to produce them domestically. Stauffer’s Biscuit Company produced their first batch of animal crackers sometime around the start of the 20th century in York, Pennsylvania. Other domestic bakeries, including the Dozier-Weyl Cracker Company of St. Louis and the Holmes and Coutts Company of New York City, were the predecessors of the National Biscuit Company, today's "Nabisco Brands".
Animal biscuit crackers were made and distributed under the National Biscuit Company banner. In 1902, animal crackers officially became known as "Barnum's Animals" and evoked the familiar circus theme of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Later in 1902, the now-familiar box was designed for the Christmas season with the innovative idea of attaching a string to hang from the Christmas tree. Up until that time, crackers were generally only sold in bulk (the proverbial "cracker barrel") or in large tins. These small cartons, which retailed for five cents at the time of their release, were a big hit and are still sold today.
The number and variety contained in each box has varied over the years. In total, 54 different animals have been represented by animal crackers since 1902. In its current incarnation, each package contains 22 crackers consisting of a variety of animals. The most recent addition, the koala was added in September 2002 after being chosen by consumer votes, beating out the penguin, walrus and cobra.
In 1948, the company changed the product name to its current designation of "Barnum's Animal Crackers". Later, in 1958, production methods changed to improve the crackers' visual details. Until then animal shapes were stamped out of a dough sheet by a cutter. This produced outlines with little sophistication. By installing rotary dies, bakers can actually engrave details onto each cracker, creating a much more intricate design. The rotary dies are still used today.
Barnum's Animal Crackers are all produced in the Fair Lawn, New Jersey Bakery by Nabisco Brands. More than 40 million packages of Barnum's Animal Crackers are sold each year, both in the United States and exported to 17 countries worldwide. The crackers are baked in a 300-foot (91 m) long traveling band oven. They are in the oven for about four minutes and are baked at the rate of 12,000 per minute. Fifteen thousand cartons and 300,000 crackers are produced in a single shift, using some thirty miles of string on the packages. This runs to nearly 8,000 miles (13,000 km) of string a year. Those bright circus boxes are produced in three colors - red, blue and yellow - with different variety of animals on each.
In total there have been 37 different animals featured in Barnum's Animal Crackers since 1903. The current crackers are bear, camel, crocodile, elephant, giraffe, monkey, horse, lion, seal, tiger, and zebra. To celebrate its 100th anniversary, Barnum's added the koala to the menagerie in September 2002, but this is no longer in the current lineup.
Stauffer's animal crackers include a lion, elephant, mountain goat, cow, domestic cat, camel, tiger, horse, donkey, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, American buffalo (or bison) and bear. They are made in plain (vanilla), chocolate graham, cinnamon graham, cotton candy, and iced flavors, as well as "breakfast cookies" made with oats, almonds, cranberries, and pomegranate.
Nabisco makes Barnum's Animal Crackers, arguably[according to whom?] the most famous commercially produced version of the snack, due to the distinctive package art of a circus cage on wheels and full of animals. "Barnum" refers to the famous showman and circus entrepreneur P. T. Barnum. The product actually says "Barnum's Animals", subtitled "Crackers". At one time, the imprinted "wheels" bent around the bottom of the box and the box's bottom were perforated to allow the wheels to be opened up straight and thus stand the box on its "wheels".
Austin, a division of the Keebler Company, also makes a variety of animal crackers. Although not nearly as popular, the Austin variety has similar nutritional content and animal shapes. The Austin product is currently labeled under the name of the Kellogg Company, which acquired Keebler in 2001..
Stauffer Biscuit Company of York, Pennsylvania also has a line of animal crackers, which are now distributed by several major discount retailers. Their use of the spices nutmeg and mace give the basic animal cracker a slightly different character from the Nabisco crackers.
The Borden corporation also produced a brand of animal crackers, until some time in the late 1970s. They came in a red box, which featured the famous Elsie the Cow logo.
Market Square Food Company, Inc., located in Illinois, has also produced its own brand of animal crackers since 1982. Their animal crackers are distributed by several major retailers throughout the United States and Internationally.
In Germany, Bahlsen produces animal crackers under the Leibniz Zoo brand.
In popular culture
- Animal Crackers was the name of a 1930 Marx Brothers film.
- A song sung by Shirley Temple in 1935, "Animal Crackers in My Soup", was used by many companies for advertising animal crackers.
- Animal Crackers are the subject of Melanie Safka's 1968 novelty hit "Animal Crackers"
- Namesake of Eric Whitacre's popular choral piece, "Animal Crackers"
- In the 2007 film Zodiac, Inspector Dave Toschi (portrayed by Mark Ruffalo) is frequently seen snacking on animal crackers. The real life Toschi was known for this habit, as well.
- Stauffer's - Stauffer's Company History
- Cadbury Animals (or, more properly, Cadbury Half Coated Mini Animal Biscuits): http://www.cadbury.co.uk/ourproducts/today/Pages/JS_cakes.aspx?category=cakes#halfcoatedbiscuits
- Animal Crackers The largest animal crackers resource in the world, complete with recipes and articles.