Cracker Jill joins Jack in celebrating women in sports

The introduction of Sailor Jack, the boy who greets us on the side of a Cracker Jack box, was no accident in 1918.

The Chicago-based company that made the famous snack was embroiled in several controversies in the late 1910s: Its co-founder, German immigrant Frederick Rueckheim, allegedly prevented US recruiting officers from entering his factory during World War I. (He apparently did so while displaying a photograph of Paul von Hindenburg, the German Field Marshal, on his desk.) The founder’s family then made headlines with a brawl involving a cheeky chauffeur, two stepchildren, and a wrench. All of this came on top of repeated allegations that Rueckheim employed child labor at its Cracker Jack factory in the Windy City.

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“Now there was no avoiding it,” noted the Made-in-Chicago Museum. “Frederick Rückheim urgently needed a complete restart of public relations – for the benefit of his family, his company and future generations.”

Enter Sailor Jack, the patriotic boy, and his faithful dog, Bingo. The company also apparently revised the coloring of the Cracker Jack box: it was now red, white and blue. Military, flag, childhood and mutt. Rückheim had ticked some of America’s favorite boxes in the name of corporate survival.

More than a century later, Frito-Lay North America, the multi-billion dollar owner of Cracker Jack, is once again revamping the snack’s image. The company announced Tuesday that it was introducing a new character, Cracker Jill, “to celebrate the women who are breaking down barriers in sports.” Five portrayals of Cracker Jill will debut on special edition bags available at baseball stadiums across the country as Major League Baseball opens its 2022 season on Thursday.

Fans can also get their hands on the special-edition bags by making a $5 donation to the Women’s Sports Foundation, which works to promote gender equality on and off the field. The Cracker Jills were created by artist Monica Ahanonu, who, according to Frito-Lay, modeled the characters after “the most prominent ethnic groups in the United States according to the US Census Bureau.”

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“We are constantly inspired by the many women who are making history by breaking new ground, and we want to celebrate their achievements while supporting progress,” said Tina Mahal, vice president of marketing at Frito-Lay North America, in a Explanation.

Frito-Lay highlights some pioneers in a promotional video, including Heaven Fitch, the first girl to win a single high school wrestling title in North Carolina. But the company, more broadly, also rides on the shoulders of countless other barrier-breaking women, past and present. Such as: the 12 women who serve as coaches in the National Football League; Sarah Fuller, who became the first woman to play in a Power Five college football game; or, going further back in time, Janet Guthrie, who became the first woman to compete in NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series in 1976.

Of course, the snack company is also participating in a larger marketing trend to diversify the mascots that represent a brand or simply make them more inclusive. Four years ago, Johnnie Walker added a female foil, Jane Walker, to go head-to-toe with the company’s strutting dandy. Earlier this year, Mars Inc. decided to redesign the cast of the candy-colored characters that sell M&Ms. They became “more inclusive,” a personality transformation that sparked a thousand food for thought, including one about whether Mars “slut-shamed” the green M&M mascot.

Part of Frito-Lay’s Cracker Jill campaign involves a reworking of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” the 1908 tune that became Cracker Jack’s best free publicity piece, especially during baseball season when it’s a regular during of the seventh inning is sung. Former Fifth Harmony member Normani has released a video of the revised stadium anthem, which includes these new lyrics:

“Buy me some peanuts and crackers Jill/

Nobody can stop you if you have the will.”

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Normani does not end the song with the standard line “. . . at the old ball game,” but with a more hopeful message about woman empowerment: “It’s a new ball game.” The same sentiment, one could argue, underscores Frito-Lay’s Cracker Jill refreshment. The campaign is the company’s latest attempt to make Cracker Jack, a snack that harks back to the dead bullet era of America’s pastime, more appealing to modern eaters.

A decade ago, Frito-Lay first launched Cracker Jack’D, a line of snacks that were infused with caffeine and later other flavors. Then, about six years ago, the company replaced the prizes hidden in its boxes with QR codes and mobile games.

It’s worth noting that Cracker Jill isn’t the first female character created by the company that owns Cracker Jack. The Made-in-Chicago Museum mentions that at one point, Rueckheim and his crew introduced a mascot named Miss Angelus, who appears to be Jack’s sister. She threw up a marshmallow confection made by the company. She didn’t stay long.

Cracker Jill will apparently not suffer the same fate. A spokeswoman emailed the Washington Post to say that “the intention is that all five Jills remain with Sailor Jack as a member of the team roster and part of the brand ethos.”

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