The Oreo is over one hundred years old. The delectable cookie with the creme center – a worldwide favorite – traces its origins to New York City.
According to Katherine Martinelli, writing for Smithsonian Magazine, NABISCO was formed in the city of New York in 1890, when some local bakeries merged to form the New York Biscuit Company and located in what is today Chelsea Market. Later, the company merged with rivals in Chicago and became the National Biscuit Company, NABISCO.
Prior to the Oreo, Nabisco debuted Barnum’s Animal Crackers, in 1902 (after P.T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome). Barnum was famous for his hoaxes and a well known museum in New York City in the 1860s. The circus-themed animal crackers debuted around Christmastime. The box was gold and yellow and came with a string handle so it could be hung on Christmas trees.
The popularity of the circus in the early 20th century contributed to the success of Barnum’s Animal Crackers and it quickly dominated the market. It didn’t hurt that NABISCO’s cracker tasted more like a cookie.
The first Oreos were shipped from the New York City bakery to Hoboken, New Jersey, on April 6, 1912. The following year, NABISCO filed for a trademark on the Oreo (granted in 1913). The first Ores included a wreath along the edge of thee cookie with the word “Oreo” embossed in the center. The first Oreos are believed to have been sold to by a grocer named S. C. Thuesen for 30 cents a pound.
Initially they were called Oreo Biscuits. In 1921, according to the website of Mondelez International, who purchased Nabisco from Kraft Foods in 2012, the named was changed to the Oreo Sandwich. By 1932, the NABISCO factory included 17 buildings on three blocks. Chocolate was not the only flavor. You could also enjoy a lemon meringue Oreo (discontinued in the 1920s).
In 1948 the official name was changed to Oreo Crème Sandwich, and changed again in 1974 when it became the Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookie. William A. Turnier is credited with a new design for the modern cookie in 1952. It earned him the name “Mr. Oreo.”
Considerable debate surrounds the origins of the name Oreo, which are probably lost. It may have come from the French word for gold. The bulk tin, which is the way they were originally sold, had gold as a prominent color. Others have suggested the Greek word for mountain, or the hill-like shape of the first Oreos.
NABISCO remained in New York until 1958. In order to modernize their facilities and expand production they moved to Fair Lawn, Bergen County, New Jersey, where I have experienced a delicious aroma in the air while sitting at a traffic light.
According to the makers of the Oreo, since its inception in 1912 over 450 billion Oreos have been sold. So many are made each year that they could circle the earth five times.
In 2002, the iconic cookie got its own street – Oreo Way – between on 9th Avenue, between 15th and 16th Streets.
Illustrations, from above: The National Biscuit Company Building, 15th St. & 10th Ave., c.1913; an early Oreo cookie advertisement; Oreo cookie designs through the years; and another later advertisement.