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 cookies grew to the point that bakers began to produce them domestically. Stauffer’s Biscuit Company produced their first batch of animal crackers in York, Pennsylvania, in 1871. 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 cookies 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. Until that time, crackers were generally sold only in bulk (the proverbial “cracker barrel”) or in large tins. These small cartons, which retailed for 5 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 cookies 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.