Smith was a confectioner in London and, ambitious for his business, he travelled abroad looking for inspiration for his sweetmeats.
Anecdote has it that on a trip to Paris in 1840, he discovered the bonbon, a sugared almond wrapped in patterned paper with a twist at each end. He thought this was such an innovative idea that he packaged and sold these sweets back at home. They didn’t take off commercially so Smith replaced the sweet with a trinket.
History relates that the cracker’s snap sound came from Smith’s Eureka moment when he listened to the crackle of a log on an open fire. More prosaically, says cracker historian Peter Kimpton, the retired marketing services manager for Tom Smith: “He bought the science behind the ‘snap’ from one Tom Brown, a chemist employed by Brock’s Fireworks.”
Smith was onto a cracker of a business venture and launched eight different versions under the name Bangs of Expectation in 1861. They were a great success and as the company developed under Smith’s three sons, it became ever more ambitious.
It employed popular artists like Louis Wain to decorate the boxes – even the great equestrian painter AJ Munnings had designed cracker boxes in his youth – while freelance writers penned jokes, love poems, mottoes and riddles to be put in the crackers.
His marketing arm was wide; there were even special crackers for spinsters and bachelors, said Kimpton.
One aspect of his invention which Smith maybe could not have foreseen was that in the Second World War the Ministry of Defence used cracker snaps to imitate gunfire during rudimentary troop training. Early Tom Smith cracker boxes and catalogues are eagerly sought by collectors.
The Tom Smith company passed from the Smith family in the 1930s and the brand is now owned by the IG Design Group PLC, with most crackers now being made in China. For more information, contact Peter Kimpton via his website below.