Until the late 1800s, the biscuit/cracker industry was made up of small independent local bakeries preparing products and selling them in bulk. The barrels and crates of biscuits were delivered by horse and wagon, set out in the grocery store and sold to the consumer by the measure. Since most of the products were dispensed in bulk, the smell of kerosene, meat, medicines/chemicals, smoke etc. as well as all kinds of pests permeated the exposed crackers.
In 1890, a group of thirty-three mid-west and western bakers combined to form the American Biscuit & Manufacturing Company. This consolidation was done primarily to compete with United States Baking Company, another mid-west group and the New York Biscuit Company, an east coast conglomerate. Soon the American Biscuit and New York Biscuit groups were opening bakeries and lowering prices in each others area in an attempt to eliminate the competition. Finally in February 1898 the competing groups combined 114 factories and formed the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco).
Although Joseph Loose was a member of the Nabisco’s Board of Directors, in 1902 along with his brother Jacob and John H Wiles, he liquidated his holdings in National Biscuit Company and formed the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company in Kansas City. They envisioned a factory which would be filled with sunlight and so they adopted the name SUNSHINE for their products. Soon they began expanding and opened new plants in Boston and then New York. In 1912 Loose-Wiles opened their ‘Thousand Window” bakery on Long Island, which remained the largest bakery building in the world until 1955.
An interesting side note is that Loose-Wiles never registered their ‘Sunshine’ brand name and therefore spend much effort in the first forty years trying to dissuade other companies from using the word ‘sunshine’ or any related word on their product or in their advertising. Since Loose-Wiles claim was not based on a registered mark, they often had to investigate when and where the other company first used the word in order to determine which company had first claim so as not to lose their right to the name ‘Sunshine’ for their own products. Finally in 1946, the Loose-Wiles Company officially changed its name to Sunshine Biscuit, Inc.
The early part of the company’s history was dominated by developing new items and acquiring established brands from other smaller companies. Many of the products and their names are similar to those of their largest competitor, the National Biscuit Company. For example, Nabisco’s first individually packaged cracker was named 'Uneeda'. Loose-Wile’s cracker was ‘Takhoma.’ Loose-Wiles made ‘Trumps Cookies.’ Nabisco produced "Aces." Sunshine Biscuit had ‘Animal Crackers’ and ‘Toy Cookies.’ Nabisco produced ‘Barnum’s Animals.’
American Tobacco Company purchased the company in 1966. It was then sold to G. F. Industries, a privately held California company, and finally merged with Keebler Company in 1996.
Sunshine Biscuits made the Hydrox chocolate sandwich cream cookie, before it was discontinued in 1999. They were reintroduced in August 2008, and retain the Sunshine branding. Today, Sunshine is probably best known for producing the Cheez-It brand of snack crackers, which are still made under the Sunshine label, as are Krispy Crackers saltines. However, five well-known Sunshine brands were discontinued after the merger with Keebler: Chip-A-Roos, Hi-Ho Crackers, Chocolate Nugget cookies, Lemon Coolers and Golden Fruit Biscuits. Sunshine originated Vienna Fingers cookies, which are now sold under the Keebler brand.