Food Facts & Lore

February, National Snack Foods Month

Upon hearing the word “snack,” we frequently imagine a favorite grab-and-go treat we can find at a glance at a local daily stop on the way to work or back home. The mind homes in on a familiar package. It knows what the body craves; hardly a conscious thought is required.

The true definition of “snack” is: a small amount of food consumed between meals. The word was first coined in 17th century Middle English and Middle Dutch, clearly long before grab-and-go eating habits took hold. The original meaning refers to “snap,” or “bite.”

The concept of a snack for the sake of consuming something sweet or salty on a whim, as opposed to having a deliberate small meal in between formal meals, is not an otherwise new idea. But it did begin out of the blue, at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. It is in this festive context that vendors and inventors introduced such classics as hot dogs, cotton candy, waffle cones and Dr. Pepper. The setting was ideal as millions of people attended and were thus exposed to new, irresistible treats. This was the ultimate social media campaign. Try, love, crave more, talk about it.

And this sets the stage for a few fact bites at four of the most iconic snacks in America.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

A farmer by the name of Harry Burnett Reese invented this genius treat. He made the first batch in 1928 and named it “penny cup.” Reese had been a shipping foreman for Milton S. Hershey, a job he took to supplement his income and support his family. He manufactured these and other chocolate confections in his basement, using Hershey’s chocolate and only fresh ingredients.


In 1964, Post announced a new fruit-filled pastry consumers could simply unwrap and eat, no refrigeration necessary. But there was a major problem with this announcement. The Post kitchen had not yet perfected the new pastry, let alone figured out how to package it. Kellogg seized the opportunity and developed his own version. The company also saved considerable amounts of money on packaging the new product by wrapping two at once. Consumers immediately appreciated the “toaster-ready” concept.

Goldfish Crackers

Pepperidge Farm introduced Goldfish to the US in 1962, but the original inventor, Swiss biscuit manufacturer Oscar J. Kambly, first marketed the cheese-flavored, bite-size cracker in 1958. Why the fish shape? It is true that the goldfish represents luck, and this was reason enough to inspire the shape, but Kambly had a more personal reason. He created the snack for his wife’s birthday. According to horoscope symbolism, she was a Pisces. Did you know that Goldfish crackers smile at you? That curved line beneath the eye is meant to be a cheerful grin, not a gill.


“Frito” is Spanish for “fried.” Sometimes, the simplest names embody the very delectable nature of things.

“Corn chips business for sale, a new food product, making good money.” This line ad appeared in the San Antonio Express classifieds in 1932. Mexican cook, and inventor of the original recipe, Gustavo Olguin sold the business to fund a trip back home to Mexico. The price: $100. Included: a handheld potato ricer, the recipe and a list of 19 established retail customers. Inventor, farmer and businessman Charles Elmer Doolin knew he had to act. The first Fritos were made in his mother’s kitchen.  

Upon reviewing these few examples of iconic snacks, and hundreds more, it becomes clear that at least one of two ingredients enter into play in almost every single instance: opportunity and personal drive. This, after all, is what gives life its flavor.