A History of American Snack Foods, From Waffle Cones to Doritos (2024)

The next time you step inside a supermarket, take a second to marvel at the sheer quantity of snack foods lining the aisles: dozens of flavors of chips, even more flavors of ice cream, and every candy you could possibly imagine (including a few that maybe you wish you hadn't). Of course, it wasn't always this way. It may be hard to believe, but "classic" snacks like plain potato chips, Twinkies, and chocolate bars were once just as innovative and surprising as purple-and-green EZ-Squirt ketchup. Let's take a look back at over a century of America's greatest moments in snacking and celebrate the sweet and salty treats that inhabit our lunchboxes to this day.


: Like the 1893 Columbian Exposition that preceded it, the Saint Louis World's Fair in 1904 introduced new foods and beverages to millions of hungry fairgoers. Dr. Pepper, waffle cones for ice cream, hot dogs, hamburgers, cotton candy, and other "carnival foods" all became popularized for the first time at the fair. Meanwhile, Lombardi's became America's first pizzeria when it was licensed by the City of New York in 1905. Jell-O jiggled its way into our hearts after an advertisem*nt in a 1902 issue of Ladies' Home Journal declared it to be "America's Most Famous Dessert" (though try telling that to apple pie). The only blemish in this otherwise unmarred snacking decade? Chalky Conversation Heart candies, which, despite their sweet sayings, are the last thing anyone wants to receive for Valentine's Day.


: The world's most iconic sandwich cookie, the Oreo, was introduced in 1912 and sold in glass-lidded jars for 25 cents a pound. A year later, Life Savers "Pep-O-Mint" candies were released (although their signature hole didn't appear until 1925) in a tidy, tinfoil wrapper. The Tasty Baking Company revolutionized on-the-go snacking when it began to sell individual wrapped chocolate Tastykakes in 1914. Just don't tell that to Hostess: it claims that its cupcakes were the first individually wrapped snacks of their kind. We prefer to not have to choose between the two; both are welcome in our shopping carts (and bellies) any day.


: While alcohol consumption suffered (at least theoretically) thanks to Prohibition, snacking flourished. Baby Ruth, Oh Henry!, Mounds, Mr. Goodbar, Mike and Ike, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Butterfinger, Health Bars, Nestle Drumsticks, and popsicles are all sweet, sweet byproducts of the Jazz Age. 7-UP was launched in October of 1929 and initially contained lithium citrate, a mood-stabilizing drug that was likely enjoyed by frazzled consumers two weeks later, when the stock market crashed.


: If you judged the 1930s by its snacks alone, you would have no idea that the economy was tanking. Twinkies, Snickers, Tootsie Pops, Fritos, 3 Musketeers, Ritz Crackers, Frito corn chips, 5th Avenues, and Lay's Potato Chips were all produced during the lean years of the Great Depression. The Girl Scouts of the USA didn't seem to be suffering much either; their cookie fundraisers became so popular that they began outsourcing the production of their sugar cookies to commercial bakers in 1936.


: Our involvement in World War II had the biggest impact on the snacking trends of this decade. <del>Hershey's Chocolate</del> Mars began producing M&Ms in 1941 due to a practical need for heat-resistant chocolates to send to soldiers overseas. Tootsie Rolls were also a popular addition to soldiers' ration kits. Government rationing on the homefront limited the domestic consumption of meat, butter, and sugar (among other necessities). For that reason, few new snacks were introduced until later in the decade. When rationing was lifted in 1947, Americans could once again indulge their sweet tooth in Almond Joys, Junior Mints, and Smarties. Cheetos were also introduced after the end of the war, marking the beginning of our torrid love affair with artificial cheese-flavored snacks.


: After the war, America's thriving economy gave rise to fast-food franchises that achieved total world domination within a few short decades. McDonald's, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Denny's, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Pizza Hut all got their start thanks to this postwar boom. The rising popularity of "ethnic" snacks like pizza, tacos, and nachos showed that Americans were willing to venture outside of their culinary comfort zones. The invention and subsequent popularity of Cheez Whiz further proved that Americans were willing to venture outside the boundaries of good taste.


: Sending humans into outer space may have been one of the greatest scientific and technological achievements of mankind, but we were way more interested in another aspect of space exploration: Astronaut Ice Cream. Sure, it doesn't taste nearly as good as actual ice cream and is way more expensive, but chomping down on that gritty Neapolitan slab is a gimmick that will never get old. Thanks to new technologies in food science, snacks in the '60s began to make the transition from "classic" to "cool." Inventors began to play around with new flavors, textures, and packaging. Experiments like Sprite, Tab, Pop-Tarts, Ruffles, Pringles, Lucky Charms, Hunt's Snack Pack pudding (first packaged in an aluminum, pull-tab can), Apple Jacks, Doritos, Funyuns, Starburst, Gatorade, and Diet Pepsi were highly successful. Others, like Celery Jell-O, weren't.


: Writer Tom Wolfe dubbed the '70s the "Me Decade," making Eggo waffles the ideal snack representative of the era ("L'eggo My Eggo!"). With more women entering the workforce and feminists eschewing traditional roles, greater emphasis was placed on foods that didn't take much time or effort to prepare. One of the strangest applications of this trend was "Gerber Singles," precooked pureed foods like "creamed beef" and "Mediterranean vegetables" packaged in oversized baby food jars, designed for adults living on their own for the first time. While we enjoy eating foods that remind us of our childhood, this infantilizing product took the concept way too far. That's not to say that the '70s didn't produce some terrific snacks: Pop Rocks, Twix, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Combos, Reese's Pieces, and the greatest thing ever to happen to broke college students: instant ramen.


: From teased and crimped hair to shoulder pads and stock portfolios, everything about '80s-era America was larger than life, and snacks were no exception. We have the '80s to thank for Cool Ranch Doritos, Fruit Rollups, Handi-Snacks, Crystal Light, Capri Sun, Teddy Grahams, and Diet co*ke. Unfortunately, some of our favorite snacks went the way of Teddy Ruxpin and Betamax players. Smurf-Berry Cereal, Smurf Magic Berries, Hostess Pudding Pies, Fun Fruits, Squeezits, Keebler Magic Middles, Ecto Cooler, and C-3PO's, we salute you!


: We think that '90s snacks were a pretty big deal. Check out the 20 snacks that we miss most.

2000s and Beyond

: Present-day snackers enjoy a wider selection of snack foods than ever before, but also the terrible knowledge that almost all of them are horrible for our health. As a result, some of our favorite "unhealthy" brands came out with smaller 100-calorie snack portions for self-conscious dieters (meanwhile, the rest of us have to eat at least three packs to be remotely satisfied). Gross-out novelty candies have become the fastest-growing segment of the candy market in the United States; even Jelly Belly jumped on the bandwagon when it came out with a faithful recreation of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, enjoyed by the teenage wizards of the Harry Potter novels (rotten egg, bacon, earwax, dirt, vomit, and soap are some of the delectable "surprise" flavors). The soft drinks of the past begat extreme, high-powered energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster Energy, and 5 Hour Energy. Interestingly, the most controversial of these energy drinks, Cocaine, is named after one of the original ingredients of Coca-Cola. Perhaps we've come full circle? Somehow, we don't think so.

--Kim Holmes

Snacks We Miss from the 90s
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A History of American Snack Foods, From Waffle Cones to Doritos (2024)


What snack was invented in 1912? ›

Oreo. Bite of History: This dunkable delight debuted in the spring of 1912 by the National Biscuit Company (now known as Nabisco and owned by Kraft). But it wasn't a stand-alone offer. The Oreo was packaged as part of the Trio: the Mother Goose, the Veronese, and the Oreo Biscuit.

What was the biggest snack trend in 1966? ›

1966: Doritos

You might be surprised to learn that when Doritos were first released by Frito Lay, they didn't have that famous Doritos flavor—they were just tortilla chips! The nacho cheese flavoring was introduced six years later, and snack lovers were hooked.

What popular snack was invented in the 1930s? ›

The story. Here are some snacks that were developed or popularized in the 1930s, according the The Food Timeline: cheese puffs, Fritos, Marshmallow Sandwich cookies, chocolate-covered pretzels (chocolate-covered potato chips date to the 1920s), Ritz crackers, SPAM, and Cho Cho ice cream treats.

What was junk food in the 1930s? ›

: If you judged the 1930s by its snacks alone, you would have no idea that the economy was tanking. Twinkies, Snickers, Tootsie Pops, Fritos, 3 Musketeers, Ritz Crackers, Frito corn chips, 5th Avenues, and Lay's Potato Chips were all produced during the lean years of the Great Depression.

What is the oldest cookie still made? ›

When you reach for a pizzelle you're reaching towards a thousand years of tradition, celebrations, and delicious moments. In 8th century Abruzzo, Italy, the pizzelle was created and heralded for its subtle sweetness and satisfying crispy texture.

What was the first junk food invented? ›

Between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the first "junk drink" was launched based on fruit juice, sugar, water with carbon dioxide and citric acid, a sort of ancestor of Coca Cola , and the first was marketed junk food called Cracker Jack , which is a sweet-savory mixture of popcorn, molasses and ...

What is the oldest snack in history? ›

According to historians, pretzels are the oldest snack food known. Today, pretzels continue to be the most popular in America and Germany. Not just hard pretzels, we have mini crackers type, chocolate coated, doughy-chewy kind like Auntie Anne's.

What were the snacks in the 1940s? ›

Other favorites of the time were Bazooka Bubble Gum, Licorice candies, Turkish Taffy, DOTS Candy, Jolly Ranchers, Whoppers Malted Milk Balls, Mike & Ike, and Rain-Blo Bubble Gum. Snacks that emerged during the '40s include Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Chiquita Bananas, Junior Mints, Almond Joy, V8, and Cheetos.

What snacks were invented in the 1920s? ›

Most Read Life Stories. On the other hand, the Baby Ruth bar and Wonder Bread were both invented in 1920, Popsicles came out in 1924, Hostess cakes and Kool-Aid were products of 1927 and Velveeta cheese was introduced in 1928. So Americans were getting healthier, but at the same time they weren't.

What is the poor man's meal? ›

Potatoes were also inexpensive and used extensively. Some meals even used both. One of these meals was called the Poor Man's Meal. It combined potatoes, onions, and hot dogs into one hearty, inexpensive dish, which was perfect for the hard times people had fallen on.

What did poor people eat in 1930s? ›

Many cheap foods still common among the poor today made their debut during the Depression: Wonder Bread (1930), Bisquick (1931), Miracle Whip (1933), and Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup (1934). Ragu spaghetti sauce, Kraft mac-n-cheese, and Hormel Spam all appeared during the Roosevelt Recession in 1937.

What did hobos eat during the Great Depression? ›

Mulligan Stew. Mulligan stew, otherwise known as “hobo stew” is survival food at its finest. During the Great Depression, homeless people were often referred to as hobos as they searched for odd jobs to make ends meet.

What was a famous food in 1912? ›

oysters, filet mignon, poached salmon, foie gras, roasted pigeon, and lamb. Happily, when it came to dinner parties, six courses had become acceptable (instead of the 9 or 10 diners used to be served).

What was invented in 1912? ›

1912. Motorized movie cameras were invented and replaced hand-cranked cameras. The first military tank was patented by Australian inventor De La Mole. Clarence Crane created Life Savers candy.

What food was invented in the 1910s? ›

Oreos were invented in 1912, peppermint Life Savers came along the year after that and Kraft Processed Cheese in 1916. Customers could now reach for items at food markets rather than have clerks hand it to them from behind the counter, and canned goods continued their meteoric rise.

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