Happy birthday: The 100-year history of the Hostess CupCake

By Gill Hyslop contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Twinkies, Hostess brands, Donettes

Hostess is celebrating its centennial milestone, having debuted its first snack cake – known today as the widely popular Hostess CupCake – back in 1919.

Hostess – which started life as Continental Baking Company (CBC) – is today one of the largest packaged food companies focused on producing fresh baked sweet goods in the US.

To kick off its 100th​ birthday – dubbed the Hostess Sweetennial – the company is rolling out Hostess Birthday CupCakes, available for a limited-time as part of its annual CupCake Craze retail program, which sees the release of several limited-edition CupCake flavors.

The Birthday CupCakes feature a golden sponge studded with rainbow sprinkles, topped with vanilla icing and more rainbow sprinkles and, of course, the original ‘squiggle’.

Who invented the CupCake?

There’s a mystery surrounding who really ‘invented’ the original Hostess CupCake in 1919, however, the man responsible for the seven-looped curlicue – which was added more than 30 years later – was DR ‘Doc’ Rice.

Rice’s road to baking fame started in his native Texas in 1923 when, at 17, he got a job at CBC as a ‘cake dumper’, putting baked cakes out on racks to cool. He fast-tracked it through to company and in 1948 – as director of production for the cake division – was in charge of improving the quality of the cupcakes, which had suffered from WWII shortages.

The new cupcakes had an improved cake mix, purer chocolate icing, a vanilla crème filling and a straight white line of icing – which soon became a squiggle – allowing the company to sell them at a higher price.

While others have tried to capitalize on the popularity of this ubiquitous decoration, the squiggle is unmistakably Hostess.

A few years later, on April 6 1930, CBC hit the snack cake gold mine when plant manager Jimmy Dewar – aka ‘Grandpa Twinkie’ – invented Twinkies, swapping the little short cake finger’s fresh strawberry filling – only available for six weeks of the year – with a banana crème, which could be marketed year round.

Dewar coined the name after seeing a billboard advertising the Twinkle Toe Shoe Co.

The first two-for-a-nickel Twinkies were later filled with vanilla crème following a banana shortage during World War II. 

Hostess' best selling snack cake

Surprisingly – contrary to popular opinion – Hostess told BakeryandSnacks that it’s the CupCake – not the Twinkie – that holds the spot as the best-selling Hostess snack cake year after year, with 600 million of them being consumed annually by Americans.

Fast forward to 2019, and Hostess Brands’ product portfolio includes a cornucopia of treats, including CupCakes, Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Ho Hos, Donettes, SnoBalls and Fruit Pies, as well as packaged breads.

In addition to the new Birthday Cupcakes, CupCake Craze 2019 is reintroducing Hostess Mint Chocolate CupCakes and Hostess Strawberry CupCakes for a limited time in multi-pack format.

The Birthday CupCakes are also available in single-serve.

“While much has changed over the last 100 years, one thing has remained a constant: when consumers come to the sweet baked goods aisle, they are looking for an indulgent treat to savor and enjoy. And while we at Hostess think that there is no bad time to treat oneself to an indulgence, birthdays are a particularly good excuse,”​ Keith Peterfeso, Hostess Brands’ brand director for All Day Snacking told this site.

Stay tuned for additional Sweetennial moments as the celebration continues throughout the year.

Company history

Hostess’ history can actually be traced back to 1849, when Robert Boyd Ward opened up the Ward Baking Company in New York City.

Twinkies by the numbers

 10: The minutes it takes to bake a Twinkie

1930: The year James Dewar invented the treat

50: The number of recipes in the Twinkies Cookbook

1999: The year US President Bill Clinton chose the Twinkie as an “object of enduring American symbolism”​ for the National Millennium Time Capsule

121: The number of Twinkies eaten in six minutes by Major League Eating’s top-ranked eater, Joey ‘Jaws’ Chestnut in the first ever World Twinkie Eating Championship held on October 26 2013

1.2m: The number of Hostess Facebook likes

In 1921, his grandson William took over the company and renamed it the Continental Baking Company in 1925.

The company went through numerous acquisitions and mergers, and eventually rebranded as Hostess Brands in 2009.

The company went bankrupt back in 2012 when it found itself loaded with too much debt.

Then and now

The new Hostess Brand, Inc. was formed in 2013 (as HB Acquisition, LLC) to acquire the cake business – Hostess and Dolly Madison brands – from the original Hostess Brands, Inc, which became the Old HB, Inc.

The Hostess Brands company prior to 2013 and the company today are two separate entities.

Headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, the company officially restarted production of snack cakes the same year.

In 2016, Gores Holdings – a special purpose acquisition company – acquired Hostess, rebranding as Hostess Brands.

The same year, the company celebrated its listing on the Nasdaq Stock Market, in an offering valuing the company at $2.3bn.

In its last financial report – for the third quarter ended September 30, 2018 – the company posted a 9.7% revenue increase to $211.0m driven by $18.9 million from the Cloverhill Bakery it had acquired earlier that year from Aryzta.

Hostess adjusted its full year outlook from $190m to $185m and will report results for the full year ended December 31, 2018 on February 27.

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