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, 150 years on.
In its simplest form, a cracker is a small cardboard tube covered in a brightly colored twist of paper. When the cracker is pulled by two people, each holding one end of the twisted paper 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 unmemorable. Similarly, in most standard commercial products, the "gift" is equally awful, although wealthier individuals—notably, the royal family—may use custom crackers with more expensive rewards.
At the turn of the century, Tom Smith produced crackers not only for the Christmas season, but also to celebrate every major occasion from the The Paris Exhibition in 1900 to War Heroes in 1918 and The World Tour in 1926 of Prince Edward, The Prince of Wales. Contents of the crackers were tailored to each box: grotesque or artistic masks, puzzles, conundrums, tiny treasures, games and mottoes. Most crackers were boxed in beautifully illustrated boxes. All of the crackers - including the hats, from fezzes to sheikhs head dresses, were made by hand. The full illustrated catalogues which date back to 1877 provide an exceptional visual history of British social and political evolvement over an entire century. Today, Tom Smith Group Limited manufactures up to 50 million crackers every year, which are sold throughout the world.
In addition to Christmas Crackers, "Crackers" are used as decorative party favors to celebrate a variety of other special occasions and festive events. The pulling of crackers and donning of the party hats creates a relaxed, festive atmosphere certain to get any party function off the ground. Crackers provide a colorful and exciting start to any celebration, and also present each guest with a gift by which to remember the days events. At Christmas, crackers make great tree ornaments, stocking stuffers, and welcoming gifts for visiting friends and relatives. They can also be used as invitations, promotional gifts, an advertising medium, shower and wedding favors, and individualized gifts for special occasions such as Valentine's Day and Mother's Day.
This is the remarkable story of the Cracker - an unique insight into one of Britain's most enduring traditions which continues to bring pleasure to all ages and generations, from children to grandparents.