In 1847, almost by accident, Tom Smith invented the cracker. It was a simple idea which became an integral part of British celebration and tradition which still continues today.
Having worked as baker’s and confectioner’s assistant from 1830, Tom Smith set up his own confectionery business in Goswell Road, Clerkenwell, east London, in 1847. On a trip to Paris that year, he discovered the bon bon, a sugared almond wrapped in a twist of tissue paper. The bon bons sold well in Tom Smith’s shop the following Christmas, and he now began to experiment on ways to make them even more appealing.
It was the crackle of a log as he threw it on his fire one evening, that gave him the flash of inspiration which would eventually lead to the crackers we know today. Smith perfected a chemical explosion to create a “pop” caused by friction when the wrapping was broken. This later became the “snap” and the cracker was born.
Trade jumped at Smith’s latest novelty and he quickly began to refine his product. He dropped the sweet and the bon bon name, calling his new product Cosaques, but he kept the motto and added a surprise gift.
By the turn of the century Tom Smith & Co. Ltd. was producing crackers not only for the Christmas season, but also to celebrate every major occasion from the Paris Exhibition in 1900 to the World Tour in 1926 of Prince Edward.
Contents were tailored to each box; grotesque or artistic masks, puzzles, jewels, games and mottoes, and most of the beautifully illustrated boxes, crackers and hats, were made by hand. Special writers were commissioned to compose snappy and relevant maxims with references to every important event. The original Victorian mottoes were eventually replaced by puzzles and cartoons, and finally by the corny jokes and riddles which characterise crackers today.
In 1953 Tom Smith & Co. Ltd merged with Caley Crackers, taking over their headquarters and factory in Norwich.
Further mergers took place over the following years with Mead & Field, Neilson Festive Crackers, and Manson & Church, each specialists in their own particular field.
Today, the Tom Smith Group is a subsidiary of Napier Industries, the largest manufacturer of crackers in the world.