Listen, you didn’t hear it from us, but Oreo is kind of like the Arthur Slugsworth of cookies. Like Willy Wonka’s adversary in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, the makers of Oreo saw something they liked, took it for themselves–and now here we are, celebrating Oreo as “Milk’s Favorite Cookie.”
We know–can a cookie company really be embroiled in that much drama? Well, considering that disputes about the sandwich cookie and its origins are still going on to this day, the answer is yes. The history of Oreos is pretty dark.
The makers of Oreo took the design of a cookie called “Hydrox,” and despite it’s less-than-appeasing name, it was truly the first chocolate sandwich cookie with creme in the middle.
So what the heck happened? Even with the unfortunate name, how did Oreo go about snatching up this delicious cookie recipe and design and making it their own?
Before we unravel the troubling history of the Oreo, let us remind you of this old saying: “Don’t shoot the messenger.”
It may seem cut and dry at first, but once you really read into how Nabisco overtook this small kosher company, it will make you second-guess when you reach for that pack of Oreos at the grocery store.
1882 — The Story Begins
Jacob Loose, an entrepreneur looking for his next big break, bought the Corle Cracker and Candy Company in Kansas City, Missouri. Three years later, he renamed the company Loose Brother Manufacturing.
And in 1895, Loose renamed it once again, calling it the American Biscuit Company.
But wait, Oreo isn’t made by the “American Biscuit Company….”
1902 — The Merger
Jacob, and his brother Joseph Loose, partnered with Joseph Wiles to form the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company.
At this time, Jacob was a member of the board of the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) — however, he liquidated his holdings to merge with Joseph and Wiles.
So far, this all makes sense. But where’s the drama?
1902 — The Birth Of “Sunshine Biscuits”
The Loose brothers and Wiles built a large plant for their business, complete with rows and rows of windows.
Because of the sunshine that flooded the inside of the plant, the partners agreed to call their crackers and cookies “Sunshine Biscuits.” Cute, right?
The name took off, and people loved what the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company was serving.
1908 — Loose-Wiles Releases The Hydrox
One could call Hydrox the “original Oreo,” but that would be unfair to the Loose-Wiles Co. and Sunshine Biscuits.
Hydrox cookies were and still are fairly popular in their own right, despite their medicinal-sounding name (they actually share their moniker, intended to be a mashup of hydrogen and oxygen, with the Hydrox Chemical Company).
Hydrox was even able to stay afloat during Oreo’s rise to stardom due to the fact that they’re kosher and well-liked within the Jewish community.
1912 — Nabisco “Invents” The Oreo
According to Atlas Obscura, four years before Nabisco introduced their Oreo cookie to the snack market, rival sweets company Sunshine Biscuits crafted the Hydrox — a biscuit cookie comprised of two stamped chocolate wafers held together by vanilla cream filling.
1923 — Jacob Loose Dies
Loose died a rich man, and Sunshine Biscuits continued to grow and expand throughout the Midwest, and even up to New York.
Luckily, Loose didn’t see his Hydrox get trampled by Nabisco: his old friend and main rival.
1946 — Loose-Wiles Officially Becomes Sunshine Biscuits
After a long battle trying to trademark the term “Sunshine” for their products, the company finally, and officially, changed its name to Sunshine Biscuits.
However, establishing themselves as the Sunshine brand didn’t gain them much traction in their competition with Nabisco.
The two companies were constantly going head-to-head, trying to create the better version of the same cookie. For example, Sunshine Biscuits created “Animal Crackers” and “Toy Cookies,” and Nabisco made “Barnum’s Animals.”
Throughout the 20th century, the two biggest dogs in Sunshine and Nabisco’s fight — Oreo and Hydrox — continued to duke it out.
However, Oreo kept climbing as Hydrox was pushed to the side by the general public and sadly branded as the “knockoff Oreo.”
As Atlas Obscura notes, it was the name that really did Hydrox in. It’s just not appetizing.
1985 — The New York Times Praised Oreo For Its Design
“The Oreo is a cookie that embraces contradictions,” Paul Golderberger, an architecture critic for the Times, wrote in ’85 for the cookie’s 75th anniversary.
“Not only is it dark on the outside and light on the inside, but it is lavishly ornate in its exterior design while being utterly simple within. In an even more fundamental fashion, however, the Oreo’s form leaps across stylistic boundaries.”
And what of Hydrox’s design? “The Hydrox’s ornamental pattern is at once cruder and more delicate than the Oreo’s; the ridges around the edge are longer and deeper, but the center comprises stamped-out flowers, a design more intricate than the Oreo pattern,” Golderberger wrote.
“Still, it is the Oreo that has become the icon.”
1996 — Sunshine Biscuits Is Sold To Keebler
When Sunshine Biscuits was bought by Keebler in the late ’90s, Hydrox’s new parent company changed their name to Droxies in an effort to make them seem less like a treatment for whooping cough.
But the name change wasn’t enough to keep people snacking.
1998 — Oreo Pulls A Fast One
As a final turn of the knife in Hydrox’s back, Oreo went kosher in 1998. The future looked bleak for already-kosher Hydrox.
Hydrox couldn’t even rely on their Jewish fans anymore — not with Oreo being yet another kosher option for them.
2003 — The Death Of Hydrox
In 2001, The Kellogg Company bought Keebler. And by 2003, Kellogg’s had banished the Hydrox cookies from store shelves across America.
2008 — Resurrection
Kellogg’s briefly brought the Hydrox back into existence in 2008 after fans begged and pleaded with the company to do so.
“This is a dark time in cookie history,” Hydrox supporter Gary Nadeau wrote, according to the Wall Street Journal. “And for those of you who say, ‘Get over it, it’s only a cookie,’ you have not lived until you have tasted a Hydrox.”
2015 — Hydrox Makes A Full Recovery
Hydrox-lover Ellia Kassoff bought the trademark to the disgraced cookie and rereleased the Hydrox under his company Leaf Brands.
They’re now available for purchase online and in stores nationwide.
2018 — The War Has Not Been Won
Just when you thought there was about to be a happy ending, right?
According to the official Hydrox Facebook page, Oreo has been hiding the Hydrox cookies within stores in an effort to diminish their sales. It looks like the battle between Hydrox and Oreo is still going strong, a century after it began.
In their post, Hydrox wrote:
“Some of you have asked, ‘How can those guys hide Hydrox in so many stores?’ The answer is quite simple. Mondelez uses what’s called in the industry ‘DSD’ or ‘Direct store distribution.’ What that means is, they have their own trucks and personally deliver and restock supermarket shelves nationwide a few times a week, versus Hydrox which are restocked by supermarket employees at night and moved from their own warehouses.
We had no idea a competitor hiding our cookies was going to be a problem until a buyer for one of the largest store chains in the US sat us down and said, ‘We’re going to bring Hydrox into our stores, but you’re going to have a major issue to deal with.’”
We then asked, ‘What’s the issue?’ The buyer responded, ‘Mondelez is going to hide your cookies all over our stores to make sure you don’t get any sales, in hopes of being discontinued. They will see you as a major threat to their market and will do anything to ensure you’re not successful.”
“You’re going to have to hire people to go into each of our stores and make sure Hydrox is not being hidden.’”
Yikes. Actually — yikes on yikes on yikes.
2019 — Tensions Are Still High
According to the Wall Street Journal, Kassoff filed a complaint in January with the Federal Trade Commission. Kassoff claims Oreo “saw us as a threat, so they started hiding our cookies on shelves to get us discontinued.”
Mondelez, parent company of Oreo, has denied this claim.
As of right now, the FTC has not responded to Kassoff.
The Oreo cookie is as deep-seated in American culture as baseball, country music, and Oprah Winfrey. Released to the public in 1912, Nabisco’s Oreo quickly became a household name and has since been dubbed “America’s Favorite Cookie.” But at what cost?
Sadly, Oreo had to step on a few toes — er, crush a few toes — to make it big in the cookie industry.
Which cookie will win the Iron Throne?
So, yes, it’s true. Oreo jacked the Hydrox design and ran away with it.
It’s disappointing and a bit icky to think about the lack of ethics behind the business move, but what’s done is done. Perhaps it’s time to give Hydrox (which are free of GMOs and made with real sugar, btw) a try and give credit where credit is due.
Having ideas stolen is the absolute worst.
And having food stolen is almost just as bad. This story of when a guy stole a soda from his office and when he was called out, he was even ruder than Oreo, tbh. See what he said here.