Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Jim from Williamsburg, Michigan, came across the word crackerjack used as a positive term, as in, “that was a crackerjack of a movie.” He wanted to know more about the word.

Meaning exceptionally fine or admirable, it dates back to the late 19th century and seems to have been an Americanism. It breaks into two elements. Crack has meant excellent since 1793: “Pete is a crack shot.” Jack is the stereotypical name for a male. It has been used in a military sense (Every man jack of you on deck, now!), but it has been used for civilians, too.

Cashing in on this history, the confection known as Cracker Jack eventually used the image of a little boy in a sailor suit on its box. Spartaco Casini of South Bend, Indiana, reminded me that the inventor of the treat – which uses popcorn, peanuts, and molasses – was a German immigrant named Frederick Rueckheim. Beginning in 1871, he made it and sold it on what is now Federal Street in Chicago, and he brought his brother Louis over from Germany to help.

Small novelty toys (rings, decoders, figurines. etc.) used to be included in each box. A favorite insult during my childhood was to taunt an erratic driver by shouting, “Where did you get your license – in a Cracker Jack box?”  Innocent times.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.


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