Caroline Tiger: Writings
Snake Mint Can
Poor Mrs. Adams and her blasted jam jar. According to her husband, Sam, Emily was always complaining about its gummy lid. The thing never opened properly. The thing never closed properly. Being the kind of man who turned coal dust into sneezing powder by calling it Cachoo and selling it in ten-cent packets, Sam saw an opportunity to invent the “spring snake.”
This two-foot coil of wire sheathed in a snakeprint cloth skin and compressed into a shallow jam jar was rigged to scare the bejeezus out of anyone who unscrewed it. Whether Emily found Sam’s invention funny or of further annoyance is unknown. By all accounts the “Thomas Edison of Practical Jokesmithing,” as he was dubbed by the Saturday Evening Post in 1946, was a humorless man, more interested in the bottom line than in the laughs that landed him there. He founded his company in 1906 on the strength of Joy Buzzer sales. In 1908, the Jumping Snake sprang from his allegedly dour noggin. As of 2004, both were still being manufactured at the S.S. Adams Factory in Neptune, New Jersey.
An NPR interview at the factory from around that time describes the fifty-year-old Jumping Snake machine that feeds, cuts, and coils the wire spring. An employee pops it off, stuffs it into a plastic snakeskin-print sleeve and into an aluminum can labeled “Fancy Salted Mixed Nuts” or “Delicious After Dinner Mints.” Mark Newgarden, author of a book on the novelties industry, explains the gag’s lengthy life, “The urge to inflict suffering on your fellow man is primal and will go on forever.”
In 1995, Sam’s son, Bud Adams, oversaw 60 employees as they assembled snakes in a can, coins that squirt, and Joy Buzzers at the family’s factory. By 2003 Bud’s son, Chris Adams, was leading a dwindling crew of 35. Two years later, that number fell to 20. Expired patents — Sam Adams secured 37 in his lifetime — combined with overseas manufacturing were putting the squeeze on the company. In retrospect the release of Chris Adams’ Snake Potato Chip Can in the late ‘90s and his Snake Yogurt Container in the mid-aughts seem like the moves of a desperate man.
On April 1, 2009, an email went out announcing the acquisition of S.S. Adams Co. by a newcomer on the novelties scene. It wasn’t an April Fools Joke. That company continues to make Sam’s Jumping Snake. I found one in a store the other day. On its side is printed “Magic Makers, Inc. Sioux Falls, SD.” As for the factory in New Jersey, the last Mark Newgarden heard, Neptune Township was about to turn it into condos.