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Friday, February 01, 2008

The Straight Dope: Who or what are Fig Newton cookies named after?


Dear Cecil: You probably answered this one years ago, but in 1973, I was in junior high. Fig Newton cookies . . . who the heck was Newton? --William Killinger, via the Internet

Dear William: Much as I like Fig Newtons and the other fine products of the Nabisco company, you can appreciate this is not the kind of fact I keep stored in my frontal lobes. I figured I could leave it to Nabisco to keep track. When will I learn?

Visiting the Nabisco Web site (, I found the following: "There are two theories as to the origin of the Fig Newtons name. One familiar tale says the gentleman who invented the machinery that makes Fig Newtons Cookies was so proud of his work that he named the cookies after the great physicist, Sir Isaac Newton. The second theory holds that the cookies took their name from the Massachusetts town of Newton, near the home of Kennedy Biscuit Works (forerunner to Nabisco)."

I thought: Theories? We've got a product that sells in excess of 7.2 gazillion a year and the best we can come up with is theories? I decided to see if I could scare up somebody at Nabisco who had a clue.

By and by I reached John Barrows, senior manager for marketing communications. John was my kind of guy. "There is no truth at all to the Isaac Newton theory," he wrote. Fig Newtons had been introduced in 1891 by the Kennedy Biscuit Company, one of a number of regional bakeries that merged in 1898 to form the National Biscuit Company, later known as Nabisco. "The Kennedy Biscuit Company named all their products after surrounding communities, including cookies and crackers called 'Shrewsbury,' 'Harvard,' 'Beacon Hill,' and so on. There is no doubt (in our minds) whatsoever that the Fig Newton is named for Newton, Massachusetts." Studying my map of the commonwealth, all I can say is, thank God Kennedy Biscuit wasn't near Belchertown.

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