Animal-shaped crackers had been imported from England in the late 1800s. But, it wasn't until 1902 that Nabisco produced the first Barnum's Animals, inspiring the time-honored circus theme. Later that year looking ahead to the Christmas season, Nabisco designed a box that looked just like a circus wagon cage and even attached a string so the box could be hung from the Christmas tree. The idea was an instant hit, and the familiar animal cookie box became a popular year-round seller.
That same year, John L. and Jacob S. Loose, along with John H. Wiles, formed the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company in Kansas City. They adopted Sunshine Biscuits as the brand name for their cookies and crackers.
The popularity of Sunshine Biscuits grew rapidly and expanded into the Northeast with the opening of a Boston bakery in 1908 and Sunshine's famous "Thousand Window Bakery" in Long Island City, New York in 1912. The 10-story building housed production, sales and management, providing jobs for 2,500 people.
Animal crackers and the circus were so intertwined in the public's mind that when Sunshine introduced their Popeye cookies they first advertised the new product in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus program for the 1936 season. Six different boxes were initially marketed but additional designs were ultimately produced in the 30s.
Cookies were baked in the shape of Popeye, Olive, Swee'pea, Wimpy, Castor Oyl, Roughhouse, Geezil, the Sea Hag, Alice the Goon, Toar, Mr. Sphinx (from the Popeye's Ark story), and Salty (a Barnacle Bill like character). Each box featured three comic scenes of Popeye and his pals. Boxes copyrighted 1935 and 1936 have been observed. Prior to Popeye cookies, Sunshine produced their own brand of circus animal cookies and had even made Andy Gump Biscuits based on the Sidney Smith comic strip which was enormously popular in the '20s. In addition, they baked Little Orphan Annie and Katzenjammer Kids cookies. By 1946, the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company officially changed its name to Sunshine Biscuits, Inc. Today the company is a subsidiary of Keebler.
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