Twinkie R.I.P. (1930-2012)

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With the announcement Friday that Twinkies manufacturer Hostess will go out of business, snack cake enthusiasts streamed into stores and cleared shelves to grab what will be the last boxes of an iconic American brand.

Crowds even gathered outside one Hostess bakery in what was described as a scene akin to "a preview of Black Friday." Opportunists have also stocked up Twinkies and are selling them for jacked up prices online, raising the cost of a box that once sold for $5 to hundreds of dollars.

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How did such a small snack cake grow to mean so much to so many Americans?

Invented in 1930, the Twinkie has long been a junk food favorite. The Twinkie first exploded in popularity following a change in its recipe necessitated by World War II. The original Twinkie was filled with banana cream, but the war brought a banana shortage in the 1940s, vanilla cream took its place. The switch proved popular among consumers. Limited edition runs of the banana cream Twinkie occasionally returned to store shelves, but the vanilla cream version was there to stay.

In the 1950s, Twinkies' manufacturer Hostess sponsored the popular children's program, the Howdy Doody Show, a move that would cement the snack cake's popularity with an entire generation of kids.

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Twinkies are also famously the product of modern chemistry. As a result, ever since the 1960s, they have spawned a number of urban legends about the snack cake's shelf life and its supposed ability to survive nuclear exposure.

Over the decades, the enduring popularity of Twinkie is continuously reinforced by a steady stream of product placements in well-known movies and television shows. The snack cake has been featured in Ghostbusters, Wall-E, Die Hard, The Simpsons, Family Guy and Zombieland, just to name a few.

Despite the Twinkie's popularity, its reputation as quintessential junk food contributed to its downfall, with those same baby boomers who enthusiastically embraced it as children deciding against passing the food on to their children, as explained by USA Today's Bruce Horovitz. In addition to citing the union strike as a reason for the company's downfall, Hostess also noted how changing consumer preferences toward healthy, natural foods made it harder for them to sell their snack products.

With the Twinkie now gone for good (unless another manufacturer picks up where Hostess left off), the health concerns over the Twinkie will temporarily subside as fans of the snack cake enjoy one last bite of this iconic American product.

Photo credit: Corbis Images