by Kevin Walsh

Here’s a look at a Queens grocery store or delicatessen in July 1938. The shelves are chockablock with canned, packaged and bottled goods. You can see packs of Coca-Cola, for example, on the far left. The familiar Heinz 57 symbol can be seen on some of the cans. The other labels are tantalizingly too far away from recognizability. However, the products on the right are somewhat of note.

On the bottom is Bond Bread, an extinct brand today, but it survived along with Silvercup and Taystee well into my childhood and maybe a few years after. On the upper right is a brand of crackers, Crax, which was billed as “the original educator.”

The “original educator”? Crackers? Yes, there was an entire subgenre of crackers known as “educators.” The term originated in Boston in the 1790s during the era of clipper ships, when durable bread products known as ship’s biscuits were needed for long oversea voyages, crackers and bread products that were resistant to spoilage. Soon enough, the public clamored for similar cracker and bread products and Massachusetts became the national center for bakeries producing them. Butler’s Bakery, founded in Newburyport, MA in 1791 produced ship’s biscuits for a century before being sold to dentist Dr. William L. Johnson. Johnson, after years in practice, concluded that his patients’ teeth were in bad shape because of white flour and that whole wheat was a better bet, an opinion shared by many nutritionists today.

Johnson decided to experiment with a new whole wheat cracker that he called an “educator”, in the sense that he wanted to change his patients’ diets from white to whole wheat, and produced a firm cracker that had to be masticated, or chewed, thoroughly. The biscuits caught on and sold well enough for Johnson to open a side gig, a new grocery store on Boylston Street in Beacon Hill in 1885, the Johnson Educator. It was among the first “health food” stores in the country, dispensing cereal, coffee, maize meal, hominy, peanut butter and grape juice. Johnson Educator biscuits expanded regionally and eventually nationwide and were produced in large factories in Lowell and Cambridge. The crackers were sold under a variety of brand names including Crax, Beer Chasers, and Sea Pilots. Business declined in the 1970s, and the company was dissolved in 1990.

Today, “Crax” refers to a couple of things unfamiliar in the States unless you’re a birdlover or a devotee of Indian fast food. Crax is a scientific name of a family of South American birds resembling pheasants; the males have colorful crests and beaks; and it’s a brand of salty snacks sold in a variety of flavors in India with no connection to the earlier Crax brand.

Info: Food Timeline

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1 comment

Nirmal May 22, 2020 - 10:13 pm

Lol that is very true!


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