Have you ever sat looking at friends and family at the Christmas dinner table and thought/hoped that they look sillier than you do wearing their paper hats? The hats of course come from our Christmas Crackers, but where did Christmas Crackers come from?
In early 1830, Tom Smith, a young London boy, started work in a bakers and ornamental confectioners shop in London. He worked hard and before long he was successful enough to start his own business in Goswell Road, Clerkenwell, East London.
Tom Smith was adventurous and forward thinking, often traveling abroad to search for new ideas. It was on a trip to Paris in 1840 that he first discovered the ‘bon bon’ — a sugared almond wrapped in a twist of tissue paper. Anxious to develop the ‘bon bon’ idea further and to stimulate sales, Tom Smith decided to place a small love motto in the tissue paper. Within a short while, orders were sufficiently high and sales profitable enough for him to increase his staff.
It was the ‘crackling’ sound a log makes when throwing it onto a fire that gave Tom Smith the inspiration for the ‘crackle’ or ‘pop’ sound Crackers are known for. A ‘crackle’ would add the necessary excitement and spark to his novelty ‘bon bon’. Eventually, Tom perfected his chemical explosion to create a ‘pop’ caused by friction when the wrapping was broken. This became the snap and the Cracker as we know it was born in 1847.
The trade jumped at Tom Smith’s latest novelty, and he was snowed under with orders. Very quickly he began to refine his product – he dropped the sweet and the ‘bon bon’ name, calling his new crackers Cosaques, but he kept the motto and added a surprise gift. Delighted at the success, Tom decided to explore the export market and took his cracker abroad.
By the turn of the century, Tom Smith was producing crackers not only for the Christmas season, but also to celebrate every major occasion. The full illustrated catalogues, which date back to 1877, provide an exceptional visual history of British social and political evolvement over an entire century.
In the early days there was an extremely 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 specially manufactured and imported. The company was very aware of current affairs and the political and leisure activities of each period. 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.
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 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.
Tom Smith lived to see the new branch of his firm grow to swamp the original premises in Goswell Road. The company moved to Finsbury Square in the City of London where it remained until 1953.
Tom Smith left the business to his three sons, Tom Henry and Walter who set about developing the cracker designs, contents and mottoes. Walter Smith, the youngest son, introduced a topical note to the mottoes which had previously been love verses. Eventually these were replaced by more complicated puzzles and cartoons and finally by the corny jokes and riddles which characterize our crackers today. Walter also introduced the paper hats, many of which were elaborate and made of the best quality tissue paper on proper hat makers stands. So we can thank Walter Smith for our colourful dinner head attire.
Tom Smith Group now exports up to 74 million crackers annually to 34 countries including the USA, Australia, South Africa, Hong Kong and Japan.
Tom Smith Group still proudly holds the honour of producing special crackers each year for the Royal Household although designs and contents are a closely guarded secret.
|What is a Christmas Cracker?|
|Over 150 years ago, in 1847 and almost by accident, Tom Smith invented the Christmas Cracker. The Cracker soon became an integral part of British celebration and tradition, and still continues today in many parts of the world. In its simplest form, a cracker is a small cardboard tube covered in a brightly colored paper. When the cracker is pulled by two people, each holding one end of the covered tube, the friction creates a small explosive 'pop'. This 'pop' is produced by a narrow strip of chemically impregnated paper. The cracker tears apart and out of the cardboard tube tumbles a bright paper hat, a small gift, a balloon and a motto or joke. It is a running joke that all the jokes and mottos in crackers are unfunny, and the "gift" is equally unmemorable, although wealthier individuals—notably, the royal family—may use custom crackers with more expensive rewards.|