Ah, Twinkies. More than just the prototypical snack cake, Twinkies are an American icon. But did you know they were invented right here in Chicago?
The inventor of the Twinkie, James Dewar, was born in 1897, and he started work at the Hostess bakery in Schiller Park in 1920 as a deliveryman, transporting the bakery's goods in a horse-drawn truck. He stayed with the company, then owned by Continental Baking Company, and became the bakery's manager by 1930.
The Hostess bakery at that time made a product called "Little Shortbread Fingers," but they were only produced during the brief six-week strawberry season, and the rest of the year the elongated shortcake pans sat unused. In 1930, Dewar developed the Twinkie as a way to make the shortbread cakes a year-round item by injecting the cakes with a banana-cream filling. Dewar claimed he came up with the name when, on a trip to St. Louis, he saw a billboard advertisement for the Twinkle Toe Shoe Company.
Twinkies were an instant success, originally selling two for a nickel. However, World War II created a national banana shortage when the ships used to transport bananas were requisitioned for military use. The banana-cream filling was replaced then with the now-familiar vanilla cream.
The Hostess bakery is still located in northwest suburban Schiller Park at 9555 W. Soreng Avenue, one of 57 bakeries nation-wide and now owned by the Interstate Bakeries Corporation. IBC is the largest baker and distributor of bakery products in the US, and, in addition to Hostess, their brands include Wonder Bread, Butternut and Dolly Madison snack cakes.
Today, Hostess bakeries can produce up to 1,000 Twinkies a minute, and the Schiller Park bakery is the village's largest employer, providing about 500 jobs.
Americans eat more than 500 million Twinkies a year. Fittingly, Chicago was dubbed the "Twinkie Capital of the World" several years ago when statistics showed Chicagoans ate more Twinkies per capita than any other market. In fact, Chicago area folks apparently eat about 27 million of the little yellow sugar bombs each year.
On April 1, 2000, Hostess constructed the world's largest Twinkie birthday cake at Chicago's Navy Pier to celebrate the snack's 70th birthday. The 25 ft. tall cake was composed of 20,000 Twinkies.
Contrary to popular myth, which believes the cake can stay "fresh" for an impossibly long period of time, Twinkies have a shelf-life of 25 days.
Just for Fun
The official website for Hostess. Play brand-related games, learn more Hostess product trivia, and check out their frightening collection of recipes involving Hostess snack cakes.
The T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project
The website for the now-classic series of experiments performed by two very bored Rice University students in 1995. Includes the Twinkie radiation test, gravitational response test and resistivity test.
Chicago Authors: First Lines
As part of a new section of the column, each week I will feature the opening lines of a book or work by a Chicago-area author. Selections will be drawn from a wide range of periods and genres and will not be limited to fiction. Enjoy.
"We didn't always live on Mango Street. Before that we lived on Loomis on the third floor, and before that we lived on Keeler. Before Keeler it was Paulina, and before that I can't remember. But what I remember most is moving a lot. Each time it seemed there'd be one more of us. By the time we got to Mango Street we were six: Mama, Papa, Carlos, my sister Nenny and me."
--Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street
Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago in 1954 and grew up in the Humboldt Park neighborhood as the only girl in a family of six boys. She is the author of several books including collections of poetry and short stories. Her novel, House on Mango Street (1984), won the Before Columbus American Book Award, and her most recent novel, Caramelo, has been nominated for the 2004 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
For more information about the author and her works, visit the official Sandra Cisneros website.
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