Union workers craft the Oreo cookie – America’s 100-year favorite

Oreos – with their dark chocolate shells and creamy white center – have been a household name for a long time. Today marks the 100th anniversary of the sandwich cookies, reports the AFL-CIO blog.

The snack was first born on Mar. 16, 1912, under the National Biscuit Company, now known as Nabisco, and since then, over 362 billion Oreos have been bought, bitten, twisted, and licked.

Hoboken, New Jersey resident S.C. Thuesen was the first to purchase the cookies, selling them in bulk for 30 cents a pound. Since its humble beginnings, the Oreo has seen dozens of variations – fruit or green tea-flavored filling in China, a short-lived lemon-filled variety in the U.S., and the more recent mint-flavored filling.

The cookies owe their craftsmanship to the hands of union members. The Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers union, at Kraft Foods/Nabisco plants, is responsible for the snacks in the U.S. and Canada.

As a product of union labor, the cookie ends up in millions of counter-top jars in as many homes because of the productivity, teamwork, and pride of the workers who craft them.

On the flip side, proving once again that, to them, no American tradition is really sacred, the right wing has used even the Oreo cookie to help it stir up racism.

In 2011, right-wing shock jock Rush Limbaugh used the cookies to make an ignorant racial slur about President Obama. At the time, a new Oreo cookie, called a ‘Triple Double’ had hit the market.

“Well, it’s actually a biracial cookie,” said Limbaugh. “You’ve got chocolate wafers, vanilla cream, and then chocolate cream. You wait, it won’t be long before it’s going to be called the Obameo or something.”

Unsurprisingly, Limbaugh’s prejudiced commentary didn’t draw many chuckles.

Today, several workers look back at the Oreos’ history. One such worker, Jennifer Maxfield, sent her inspirational experience in to the Edmonton Journal:

It “takes me back to Mexico City, Sept. 1985,” she said. “Before flying off to visit close friends there, I bought a couple of packages for [my friend] Leslie, who had lived the first dozen years of her life in the U.S., and now missed her favorite cookies. Between their careful packing and arrival in Mexico, however, a massive earthquake intervened, and in fact the Oreos and I were on the first flight allowed into the devastated city post-temblor.

“Leslie and her mother managed to pick me up, despite the shutdown of airport, traffic lights, and telephone lines; her delight at receiving the cookies was tempered by the shadow of so much devastation and suffering throughout the city.

“Today Leslie is a respected cardiologist in Puerto Vallarta, a beautiful blonde gringa whose determination was fueled first by a high school teacher’s declaration that she would never amount to anything, and a few years later by the staggering suffering by which she was surrounded following the earthquake.

“The Oreo, for me, recalls the resilience and spirit of a young woman compelled by daunting circumstances to succeed in helping others.”

Photo: A worker fixes an Oreo display in Palo Alto, Calif. Paul Sakuma/AP



Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake is production manager, responsible for the daily assembly of the PW home page. As a writer, he has earned awards from the IWPA and ILCA, and his articles have also appeared in publications such as Workday Minnesota, EcoWatch, and Earth First News. He has covered issues including the 2010 BP oil spill in New Orleans and the 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris.

He lives in Illinois and frequently visits his home state of New Jersey. He likes cats, red wine, books, music, and nature. In his spare time, he is writing a novel and working on art.