Our new series on Festive businesses, we begin by looking at the long running Christmas cracker company – Tom Smiths.
In the Beginning
Born in 1823, Tom Smith was a British baker and confectioner described as the inventor of the Christmas cracker.
Spending some of his early career in Paris he brought home the idea of an idividual sweet wrapped in a twist of paper – the Bon Bon.
After initial success with this, the novelty began to fade amongst his customers, and he needed new ideas to keep his sales up. His first successful idea was a sweet with a love note inside the wrappers, then the sweet was replaced with a sweet and tiny trinket.
Story says it was the crackle of a log burning that inspired him to include a snap caused by silver fulminate. Silver fulminate had been around a little while by then, used often in party acts and practical jokes.
And then the size of the sweet wrapper had to be increased to take the banger strip, and the cracker was almost as we know it .
After Tom Died
Sons Walter, Tom, and Henry took over from their father after his death, and they began to include a hat and gifts inside, just like the crackers we have now. It was Walter who added the elaborate hats, made of fancy paper. He and his brothers toured the world looking for novelties, and brought back cracker gifts from Europe, America and Japan.. They chose to colour coordinate the crackers, bows, and boxes.
The company was just 7 men and 16 women in 1861 , but by 1890 the company was so successful it employed 2000 staff. Most of these staff were females
The Second World War caused quite severe paper rationing and a restriction on the manufacture of cracker snaps, but the industry recovered – in the 1950s and 1960s, Tom Smith & Co. was making 30,000 crackers a week
In 1906 the company was granted its first Royal Warrant, and today the Tom Smith Cracker Company (now owned by the IGDesign Group) still provide the bespoke Christmas crackers to the Royal Household. In 2013 Queen Elizabeth granted a further Royal Warrant for the supply of Christmas wrapping paper.
In 2005 the International Greetings Company acquired the company and took over production of the crackers and wrapping paper. They held firm to the beliefs of the companies original beginnings and keep the Royal Warrant. Still over 56% of the companies profits comes from Christmas sales. But whilst consumers demand is up this year, the company warn of a dip in profits ahead due to both Covid and supply chain issues as sea freight costs continue to rise.