A Brief History of the Twinkie

Twinkies
Twinkies | © Christian Cable / Flickr
Liz Behler

Spongy cake filled with vanilla cream – the Twinkie has been a lunchbox staple and pop culture icon since its invention in 1930. From movie cameos to courtroom drama, here’s a rundown on the history of the Twinkie.
America’s favorite snack cake got its start in Schiller Park, Illinois – just outside of Chicago – when James Dewar, a manager for the Continental Baking Company, came up with a new idea for using strawberry shortcake pans after strawberry season was over. His plan? To bake the cakes and fill them with banana cream. Inspired by an advertisement for “Twinkle Toe Shoes,” Dewar dubbed the cakes “Twinkies” and sold them for five cents per package of two.
During World War II, bananas were rationed, so the filling was changed to vanilla cream. The new flavor was such a hit, Hostess – the brand under which Twinkies were sold – never changed it back.
Throughout the ’50s, the snack cake gained popularity, especially among kids, thanks in part to Hostess sponsoring the children’s show Howdy Doody. Twinkies also went on to grace the big screen. The most famous example is 1984’s Ghostbusters, when Egon Spengler uses a Twinkie to explain psychokinetic energy.

But the Twinkie story isn’t all happy. Twinkies unexpectedly made headlines at the 1979 trial of Dan White, who killed San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. White’s lawyer argued that White had become increasingly withdrawn and depressed, gorging on sugary foods, including Twinkies. The argument that White suffered from diminished capacity, evident in his changed eating habits, helped bargain his sentence down to manslaughter, and became known as the “Twinkie Defense.”
Over the years, Twinkies maintained their popularity and were even included by Bill Clinton in the National Millennium Time Capsule in 1999. In 2012, Americans suffered a brief panic attack when it was announced that Hostess was filing for bankruptcy. Die-hard fans bought up every package they could find (despite the fact that Twinkies only have a maximum shelf life of 45 days, contrary to the legend that they stay fresh indefinitely). But their tears soon dried when new owners bought the brand and returned the treat to store shelves in a matter of months. After more than 80 years, it looks like Twinkies are here to stay.

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