The Jacob’s factory in Dublin is an icon of Ireland’s industrial heritage. The blog, illustrated with newly digitised material from Dublin City Library and Archive, tells the history of the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, home of the cream cracker.
The Jacob family were Quakers from Waterford, who had been in the baking trade for some time before they started making ‘fancy’ biscuits. William and Robert Jacob obtained a new premises in 1850 and announced that they would thenceforth be adding fancy biscuits to their range of goods. Within a very short time, business was thriving.
A move to Dublin, the distribution centre of Ireland, became a necessity. By 1853, W & R Jacob’s were operating out of a premises on Peter’s Row in the Liberties area of Dublin.
In 1885, the famous Cream Cracker was invented, and quickly became the company’s best seller. In fact, in 1893, six tins of Cream Crackers were ordered by Prince Frederick Leopold of Germany.
Jacob’s continued to grow, and in 1912, having run out of expansion space in Dublin, a new factory was opened in Aintree, Liverpool.
Meanwhile, back in Dublin, Jacob’s was witnessing industrial unrest over wages, and by 1913, tensions were high between Jacob’s management and the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. Jacob’s took a hard line with workers during the lockout that followed, and the dispute caused much bitterness and bad publicity for the firm. Rosie Hackett (after whom one of Dublin’s River Liffey’s bridges is named) was a worker in Jacob’s at the time, and was involved in the lockout.
The following year, World War I broke out, and many men from Jacob’s enlisted. The firm regularly sent cakes and tins of biscuits to its employees serving overseas.
The next challenge for Jacob’s arose in the form of the Easter 1916 Rising. The factory – one of the positions seized by the rebels – was largely unscathed, and although some looting did take place in the aftermath of the rising, the government paid compensation for that.
Business continued to thrive, and when World War II broke out, Jacob’s showed great ingenuity faced with the shortage of supplies, using potatoes as a substitute for flour in some biscuits.
By the 1950s, Jacob’s was considered one of the best places to work in Dublin – the pay was good and staff were well-looked after. There was a swimming pool and recreation room for staff, a savings and pension schemes and both a doctor and dentist were hired by the company, offering free medical attention to staff. There was even an annual Christmas pensioners’ party.
The restrictions on supplies following World War II, and the emergence of Bolands biscuits in Dublin pushed Jacob’s to improve their advertising and public relations. They had many ground-breaking ideas, including associating themselves with the glamorous aviation industry, by sponsoring Radio Eireann’s programme ‘Come Fly with Me’.
1966 saw the merger between Jacob’s and their chief competitor in Ireland, Bolands, and the resultant company was called Irish Biscuits. The new company continued to market biscuits under both brand names.
Two years later, the decision was made to purchase a site in Tallaght, a Dublin suburb, and to move production there. Informing this decision was the fact that many employees had been moved from tenements in the Liberties to Dublin Corporation housing schemes in areas such as Crumlin and Walkinstown. The Tallaght plant officially opened in 1975 and the inner-city Bishop Street closed its doors in 1977.
In 1991, Jacob’s was bought by Danone, and in 2004 by Fruitfield Foods. In 2009, Jacob’s ended production in Ireland after 156 years.
Jacob’s archives were acquired by Dublin City Library and Archive in 2012. The 330 boxes contain a wide range of records representing a rich and significant contribution to the study of business and commercial life in Dublin.