As a young boy, Tom Smith worked in a bakers and ornamental confectioners shop in London. He had a particular skill for creating new sweets and began to create more exciting designs for his confectionery in his spare time, even travelling to Paris in 1840 to do some research. It was while he was there that Tom fell in love with the bon-bon, a sugared sweet wrapped in tissue.
Tom decided to bring the bon-bon to London, having noticed that they sold particularly well in the approach to Christmas, but by January demand for them had died right down.
Keen to increase sales of his bon-bons, Tom placed a love motto in the tissue paper, and within only a short while, orders were sufficiently high and sales profitable enough for him to open his own shop and employ some staff. Then Tom (who, it is said, was inspired by the crackle of a log fire) thought that a sound like a bang or a crack when the sweet was opened would add some more novelty value to his product.
To add the ‘crack’ the size of the sweet had to be increased. At first the circular shape of the bon-bon remained the same, and the motto was still included. Eventually, however, Tom perfected his chemical explosion to create a ‘pop’ caused by friction when the wrapping was broken, and the traditional cracker, made of a cardboard tube covered in a brightly coloured twist of paper, was born.
Tom changed his product’s name to Cosaques, and replaced the sweet with a gift, but he kept the motto. They were an instant hit and Tom Smith’s novelty filled crackers have been a feature of Christmas celebrations ever since.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.