Who invented Crackers? (Invention Timeline Explained)

Most people know what a cracker looks and tastes like because it’s one of the most affordable and accessible foodstuffs around. Several flavors and shapes are available, manufactured by different companies, all seeking to satisfy quick hunger pangs. As a result, crackers are a veritable staple of snacking and serve as a base for culinary experimentation. It’s a versatile product that goes well with different food such as liver or duck pate, jams, and fruit spreads. Crackers are also a good accompaniment for soups, cheeses, and wines.

Crackers are a healthy snack on their own or with any of the accompaniments mentioned above. However, have you ever wondered where and why crackers came to be? Wouldn’t you want to know the history and evolution of one of the world’s favorite snacks? So let’s dig in and prepare to be amazed.

Who invented crackers?

The distinction as the man who invented crackers belongs to John Pearson. Working out of Newburyport, Massachusetts, in 1792, Pearson wanted to provide long-lasting food for sailors who go on months-long voyages at sea without the food being too hard. So he experimented by mixing flour with a bit of water and baking the resulting mixture. Out of his experiment came “Pearson’s Pilot Bread,” one of the food staples for sailors because it didn’t spoil even after long months of a sea voyage. However, it wasn’t only Pearson who contributed to the evolution of crackers. Another settler named Josiah Bent was thought to be the person who came up with the name crackers in 1801. According to some sources, Bent left his biscuits in a brick oven longer than he should have. As a result, the biscuits burned and made a crackling sound, thereby giving them the name crackers. Bent sold his “water crackers” out of Milton, Massachusetts, and sailors, miners, and other workmen seemed to love his product because of its simple yet satisfying recipe. 

Crackers’ key contributors (and evolution)

  • Roman soldiers, Egyptian mariners, and British sailors
    Romans, Egyptians, and British ate version of crackers

    The Romans ate buccellatum, the Egyptians had dhourra, and British sailors endured eating hard tack. These were all dense biscuits that didn’t spoil but were pretty hard and almost inedible unless dipped in liquid. These were the precursor to modern-day crackers.

  • John Pearson
    Settler decided to create a long-lasting biscuit that rivaled hard tack

    With sea voyages typical during the time, sailors needed food that wouldn’t spoil quickly. John Pearson came up with a recipe that used flour, a little bit of water, and salt. The “Pearson’s Pilot Bread” survived long voyages without spoiling.

  • Josiah Bent
    Burnt biscuit and achieved the crackling sound

    Accounts say that Josiah overcooked the biscuits in an oven, and they burned. The biscuits made crackling noises, and Bent called them crackers. He sold the water biscuits out of Milton, Massachusetts.

  • Adolphus Green and William Moore
    Nabisco founders bought out Pearson and Sons Bakery, Josiah Bent Bakery and a host of other local bakeries. 

    Moore acquired Pearson and Sons Bakery, Josiah Bent Bakery, plus six other bakeries. Green instituted the American Biscuit and Manufacturing Company after he acquired forty bakeries. Moore and Green merged companies and created the National Biscuit Company or Nabisco.

  • Kellogg’s 
    Kellogg’s branched out to the snacking industry 

    Kellogg’s branched out to the snacking industry and manufactured different types of crackers and biscuits.

When were crackers invented?

Food historians agree that John Pearson invented what amounts to modern-day crackers in 1792. Working out of Newburyport, Massachusetts, Pearson wanted to improve the food sailors brought with them on their voyages, and he came up with a recipe combining flour, a little water, and salt. He baked it, and out came what he called “Pearson’s Pilot Bread.” However, Pearson wasn’t the only person recognized in the evolution of crackers. Josiah Bent of Milton, Massachusetts, overcooked and burnt a batch of biscuits in an oven and heard the crackling sound in 1801. Historians credit him for calling his water biscuits “crackers.”

A brief history of crackers  

If we’re to trace the rich history of modern-day crackers, we have to start by mentioning the Romans, Egyptians, and British soldiers and sailors. Roman legionnaires ate a ration of buccellatum together with bread, wine and vinegar, and lardo or mutton during ancient times. The rations were mentioned in Justinian’s Codex Iuris Civilis in the 4th century. Egyptian master mariners had their dhourra while British sailors had to endure hard tack. These foods were all dense biscuits made from flour, water, and salt and withstood long voyages without spoiling. 

Sailors typically endured months-long voyages, and they always had stores of hard tack. Hard tack was considered a staple, but it was inedible most of the time due to infestation, but sailors had to eat them to survive. They had to dip them in coffee, tea, or water to make them palatable enough after they removed the weevils or other insects. 

John Pearson set out to improve the food sailors brought during long voyages in 1792. Working out of his bakery in Newburyport, Massachusetts, he came up with a simple recipe combining flour, a little bit of water, and salt. He called it Pearson’s Pilot Bread, and sailors liked it because it didn’t harden too much. 

Historians also point to Josiah Bent as one of the personalities crucial to the evolution of crackers. According to various accounts, Bent overcooked and burnt a batch of biscuits in an oven in 1801 and heard the crackling sounds. As a result, he called his water biscuits crackers. 

Moguls William Moore and Adolphus Green entered the picture and gobbled up different bakeries in the later 19th century. Moore acquired Pearson and Sons Bakery, Josiah Bent Bakery, and several other bakeries in 1889 and started the New York Biscuit Company. In 1890, Green instituted the American Biscuit and Manufacturing Company after he acquired forty bakeries. Eight years hence, Green and Moore merged their companies into the National Biscuit Company, with Green as president. 

Other food companies diversified into making crackers. Kellogg’s, for example, acquired other companies to get their hands on their crackers and expand their operations. As a result, many more companies manufacture crackers in different shapes, styles, and flavors. 

The crackers timeline

  1. Ancient times
    Romans and Greeks ate version of cracker

    Roman soldiers and Egyptian mariners ate a version of the cracker. Romans ate buccellatum alongside bread, wine, and lardo as part of their rations during their campaigns. Egyptians ate dhourra. Buccellatum and dhourra are dense biscuits made from flour, water, and salt.

  2. 17<sup>th</sup> century to late 18<sup>th</sup> century
    Sailors and explorers survived on hard tack

    British sailors and explorers had to make do with hard tack during long voyages and expeditions. The hard tack didn’t spoil and was filling but was mostly inedible unless dipped into coffee, tea, wine, or water.

  3. 1792
    Pearson creates pilot bread to rival hard tack

    Working out of his Newburyport, Massachusetts bakery, John Pearson sought to improve the sailor’s rations. Finally, he came up with a recipe combining flour, a bit of water, and salt. He called it Pearson’s Pilot Bread.

  4. 1801
    Bent calls burnt biscuits crackers

    Josiah Bent overcooked a batch of biscuits and heard the crackling sound. So he called his water biscuits “crackers.”

Where were crackers invented?

According to historians, John Pearson invented the first modern-day crackers in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in 1792. In 1801, however, historians credited Josiah Bent for coming up with the name crackers. Bent overcooked a batch of cookies in the oven while working in Milton, Massachusetts. As a result, he burnt them and heard the crackling sounds. Bent called his water biscuits “crackers” because of this. 

Why everyone loves crackers

  • They’re satisfying 

    Whether you like them or not, crackers are a filling snack. Eat enough of them, and you’re good to go.

  • They’re a great to accompany other food

    Crackers are among the best food to accompany cheeses, wines, soups, and other food items. Crackers complement these foods tremendously.

  • They’re also versatile ingredients

    If you wish to elevate your dish, adding crushed crackers might increase its creaminess and consistency. Crackers can also add crunch as part of breading mixes.

  • Crackers are a quick comfort food

    If you’re craving something salty or sweet or flavorful, a pile of crackers with some spread, or saltines, will make you a great meal.

Crackers by the numbers

  • 1 to 4Small crackers only need one hole, while slightly bigger crackers need four holes (or more) to let steam off during baking.
  • Round crackers typically measure up to three inches in diameter.
  • 18One whole wheat cracker contains 18 calories. It’s pretty healthy, but other crackers can also pack calories.
  • 1792This is the year John Pearson came up with his Pearson’s Pilot Bread which rivaled and improved hard tack.

Five facts about crackers

  • They have varying number of holes

    Crackers contain docking holes to help steam escape from baking dough. Small crackers contain one to four holes; other bigger crackers contain anywhere from four to 54 holes.

  • Crackers come in different shapes

    Traditionally, crackers came in round, square, or rectangular shapes. Nowadays, companies turn out crackers shaped like letters, animals, and other objects.

  • Crackers differ in caloric content

    Crackers differ in calorie content. Healthy crackers contain only a few calories, while decadent crackers such as cheese-flavored ones contain anywhere from 200 to 300 calories per cup.

  • Crackers come in different flavors

    Crackers come in different flavors. While crackers are usually salty, some have cheese, herb, garlic, or plain flavors.

  • Animal crackers are a popular treat for children

    Nabisco and other food manufacturers created animal-shaped crackers as a sweet or savory treat for children starting in the early 19th century. Over the years, there have been 54 animals reimagined as crackers. Nabisco’s Barnum’s brand has the most developed animals, with 37 types since its inception.  

FAQs about crackers

  • Are crackers healthy?

    Typically, crackers are healthy food. However, the calorie content varies depending on the cracker flavor and ingredients. For example, if you want to snack on whole wheat crackers, there are only a few calories. However, cheese-flavored crackers contain 200-300 calories per cup. Therefore, if you overeat, you can gain weight. 

  • What food goes well with crackers?

    While you can eat crackers on their own, you can also add different spreads such as pate and fruit jams. You can also pair crackers with soup, different types of cheeses, fruits, and wines. Crackers are versatile food that can pair up well with almost anything. 

  • What’s the biggest cracker in the world?

    On October 13, 2018, The Committee of the Inzai-furusato-Festival in Chiba, Japan, achieved the record of the biggest cracker in the world. The 21.4- kilogram rice cracker measured 2.60 square meters and used 25 kilograms of white rice, 16 liters of water, and two liters of soy sauce to make. 

  • How do you make homemade crackers?

    You can make homemade crackers using different recipes, but mostly they call for wheat, water, and salt. To enhance the profile, you can add additional toppings such as herbs, seeds, spices, and other flavors. You can bake the crackers, but you must remember to punch holes in them to let air and steam out. 

Leave a Comment