What do the Lone Ranger, Howdy Doody, Sgt. Preston, Superman, and Tony the Tiger each have in common?
If you were a child of the 1950s the answer is simple. One or more of them were probably facing you each morning at the breakfast table. The ones mentioned and countless other figures, both real and cartoon, brightened our day.
Name brands have been around since the first mercantile opened its doors. Food, clothing, tools…it had eye-catching contenders to advertise for potential buyers.
Even so, nothing before matched the Cereal Box Bonanza that hit grocery aisles throughout the ‘50s. It might have been known as the Dwight Eisenhower “Ike” Era, but still it was the cereal golden age.
Actually, it would be more fitting to refer the period to the “Sugar Age.”
Companies by the name of Post, General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Nabisco may have been the big four, but there were others. Each went out of the way to come up with the countless ways to push colorful cardboard boxes of corn, wheat, rice or oats.
Oh yeah…and sugar. Consider the following 12 samples of cereal.
SUGAR SMACKS – A scary crown was on the box of this 1953 Kellogg product. It was 56% sugar toasted puffs of wheat. As an extra bonus an inch long atomic submarine was in each box.
SUGAR RICE KRINKLES - This was Post’s sugar coated crisp rice. It also featured a crown, a goofy one at that, on the box front. The back had an offer for a life-size one-person circus tent Mom could send off and get. (More on this later)
FROSTY O’s – General Mills produced goodies shaped like little sugar covered donuts.
OK’s – Okay, here is one that didn’t go overboard on the sugar content. Why Kellogg chose to picture a bulky Scotsman (Big Otis) as spokesman is questionable. He was replaced by Yogi Bear in time.
HEART OF OATS – This was Post attempt to let up on sugar. Linus the Lionhearted did the urging on this one.
CORN SOYA – I think the word goofy was used earlier but it is needed here for Kellogg’s slogan. “When mornings grow crisp, send them off to school feeling o-boya! Give them substantial corn-soyal!”
SUGAR JETS – General Mills was helping us enter the space age with this one. Flakes shaped like jet airplanes. Sugar just added extra boost.
CORN-FETTI - Post gave us a crewing lesson with this one. Despite being covered with sugar the corn flakes were still hard to bite into.
WHEAT HONEYS – Nabisco decided to switch to another sweetness. The name is pretty clear. Ranger Joe Bee on the box making sure three monkeys (?) shake honey on the flakes.
RICE HONEYS – Nabisco just switched to rice on this one. Big improvement was the television star Kirby Grant’s Sky King statuette was inside the box.
SURPRIZE - Before Kellogg the company was Battle Creek Food Company. This was brown rice flakes that turned milk to chocolate flavor.
CUBS – Another mystery here. Nabisco used Tarzan to promote spoon size shredded wheat. Why Tarzan? The swinging Ape Man’s Africa is not noted for having bears.
CRAZY COW – Remember the chocolate change? General Mills used strawberry flakes to turn pour on milk pink.
ADDED FEATURES INSIDE
If the sugar enhanced cereal wasn’t enough, extra gifts added to the trip down the cereal row at the store. Many times the promised extra was more important than the cereal itself.
My all-time favorite was the Wild Bill Hickok face mask on the back of Kellogg’s Sugar Pops. Never realized as a nine-year-old kid wearing that mask I would later meet and visit with actor Guy Madison who was TV’s Wild Bill.
The added features are endless in listing. Roy Rogers drinking cup, Snap, Crackle and Pop puppets, comic books and trading cards, miniature cars, planes, trains and trucks all were obtainable. How about a fleet of U.S. Navy ships that could float in water powered by baking soda?
Most of the cool items were inside the cereal or on the back. Not all however. The box tops were also important. For a box top of a certain brand and “for only 25 cents” (a few times maybe 50 cents) you could mail off for a really top notch Gabby Hays hat or inflatable two foot tall Howdy Doody doll. Fact Howdy was a puppet didn’t matter.
In addition to Western sidekick Gabby’s hat a real shooting cannon ring was available. It fired pea-size cannon balls.
I have saved my most valuable (to me at least) cereal box possession for last. At the age of nine I became the proud owner of a plot of land in Canada’s Yukon Territory. Honest!
All thanks to Sgt. Preston and the Quaker Oats.
In 1955 the company gave away land in the Klondike as part of the Klondike Big Inch Land Promotion. This was tied in with the television show. Genuine deeds for one square inch lots in the Yukon were inserted into Quaker’s Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice cereal boxes.
Currently reruns of the TV shows are broadcast daily on one of the cable stations. As I watch I can’t help wondering which inch belongs to me. The fact the series was filmed in Northern California doesn’t interest me.
Larry Larkin is a columnist for the Claremore Progress.