A shot rings out.
Then, as the high-pitched squeal of a ricocheting bullet fades,
announcer Jay Michael excitedly says:
Now, as gunshots echo across the wind-swept reaches
of the wild Northwest, Quaker Puffed Wheat . . .
Sound of gunshot
. . . and Quaker Puffed Rice (sound of gunshot),
the breakfast cereal shot from guns . . .
Two gun shots ring out.
. . . present the Challenge of the Yukon.
A dog barks.
It's Yukon King
Swiftest and strongest lead dog of the Northwest
Blazing the trail for Sergeant Preston
Of the Northwest Mounted Police
In his relentless pursuit of lawbreakers.
Deep voice of Sergeant Preston:
On King! On you huskies!
Gold - gold - discovered in the Yukon!
A stampede to the Klondike in the wild race for riches!
Back to the days of the Gold Rush with
Quaker Puffed Wheat and Quaker Puffed Rice
Bringing you the adventures of Sergeant Preston
his wonder dog, Yukon King
As they meet
The Challenge of the Yukon.
SERGEANT PRESTON'S TALE OF TAMMING THE VAST NORTHWEST CANADIAN TERRITORIES BEGAIN AS A FIFTEEN MINUTE SERIAL entitled Challenge of the Yukon. It aired in Detroit from 1938 until May, 1947. Shortly thereafter, the program acquired the sponsorship of Quaker Oats, and the series moved to the networks in a half-hour format.
ABC broadcast the show for approximately two years, and then it moved to The Mutual Broadcasting System until its final broadcast on June 9, 1955. The title changed from Challenge of the Yukon to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon in November, 1951 and remained under that name through the end of the radio series and into television.
The popular show showcased Sergeant William Preston of the North-West Mounted Police and his lead sled dog, arguably the true star of the show, Yukon King. Together they fought against lawlessness and evil in the northern wilderness during the Gold Rush of the 1890s.
Click on the arrow (above) to hear the Sergeant Preston's episode
"The Two Bullets," which was broadcast on April 5, 1950. Unfortunately, it does NOT contain the memorable intro--but, I'm still looking for one that does.
Typical plots involved the pair helping injured trappers, tracking down smugglers, or saving cabin dwellers from wild animals. Sergeant Preston's faithful steed was Rex, used primarily in the summer months; but generally, Yukon King and his dog team were the key mode of transportation as evidenced by Preston's memorable cry, "On, King! On, you huskies!."
From the mid-forties right up to 1954, actor Paul Sutton played Sergeant Preston, with Brace Beemer of The Lone Ranger fame briefly taking the role in the mid-fifties. King's barks, whines, and howls were usually provided by animal imitators and sound effects artist Dewey Cole. After Cole's death, actor Ted Johnstone voiced the clever lead dog.
There is some confusion regarding King's actual breed. The writers seemed to use malamute and husky interchangeably. At least once during an episode, Preston answered malamute to the question from another character; and in the early radio shows, the cry of, "On, you huskies!" would alternate with "On, you malamutes!" from show to show.
The theme music was Emil von Reznicek's overture to Donna Diana, a now long-forgotten opera; this overture, however, remains a concert favorite to this day. The shows' episodes always ended with the official pronouncement, “Well King, this case is closed.”
In 1955, the same year the radio show ended, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon premiered as a television series. Richard Simmons starred in the lead role and was supported by Yukon King and Rex, now played by real animals. The dog cast as King was not a husky, however but was a large Alaskan Malamute.
Programs ended with a chorus of howling winds delivering chilling images of wind-blown snow, towering evergreens, a vast expance of white wilderness, and the announcer's words:
This is the Yukon, the territory patrolled by Sgt. Preston, where man and nature combine pitilessly to defeat the weak and the artless.
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1. Deed of 1 Square Inch of Yukon Land, (1955), Quaker Oats
Give Them An Inch, And They'll Buy Oats - Chicago Tribune
Nothing is stranger . . . or stronger . . . than the lust men have for gold,” Quaker cooed in its promotion.
In the Gold Rush, men fought the wildest country on earth and the most savage of climates to get to the Klondike where your land is. During the winter, the only way to the gold fields was by ‘mushing’ for week after week. The more fortunate were aided by dog teams pulling sleds. No one knows how many brave men died along the frozen Yukon River that runs past your land.
Dangers in the wild?
The wilderness teemed with grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou, and other wildlife. In the winter, temperatures fell to 70 degrees below zero.
Your land gets colder than it ever gets even at the North Pole,” Quaker Oats warned.
If you were on your property in temperatures like this, it would be dangerous to take deep breaths!
Hardly the expected words of one of the most successful land advertising campaigns in history, but those images sold so well that Quaker couldn’t fill the shelves fast enough with their deed-packed cereal
It all began in 1955 when the Quaker Oats Cereal Company in Chicago, Illinois was looking for a promotional gimmick to help their popular radio program, Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, make the transition to television.
Chicago advertising executive Bruce Baker, the creative director for Wherry, Baker & Tilden, hatched the following plan: “Quaker Oats would buy a parcel of land in Sgt. Preston’s Yukon Territory; subdivide it into square-inch lots; and give the lots away to buyers of Puffed Wheat, Puffed Rice, and other Quaker cereals. It would be a totally legal transfer of land: every kid who dug to the bottom of his or her cereal box would find a deed to one square inch of Yukon property.
“Lawyers would draw up the deeds. They’d be gold-embossed, and have loads of legalistic fine print on them, and a corporate seal, and a place to put the new owner’s name.
“The kids would actually own a genuine piece of Canadian Gold Rush land, Sgt. Preston land, Yukon King land. They’d go crazy trying to get them!
“Quaker Oats would conquer the cereal market! The world!”
The problem was Quaker Oats hated the idea. It was impossible, the company’s lawyers told Baker. Registering the deeds to millions of tiny tots, even if it could be done, would cost the company a fortune.
“Then we won’t register them,” said Baker.
“Forget it,” said the lawyers.
But he wouldn’t forget it. In early October, 1954, Baker, his brother John (a lawyer), and a Quaker Oats advertising executive chartered a plane and flew to the Yukon to look for land.
The best-documented article concerning the Klondike Big Inch Land Co. Inc. was written in 1975 by Jack McIver for Canadian Magazine. It’s a fascinating story and bears repeating:
“In Whitehorse, the three introduced themselves to George Van Roggen, a young Canadian lawyer. Van Roggen remembers the incident well, and fondly. 'As a staid lawyer, I found the antics of these ad guys from Chicago most entertaining, certainly more so than drawing up wills. In the U.S., there’d be very little legal difficulty in dividing land into one-inch parcels, but they wanted to know if, in Canada, you could give away deeds that couldn’t be individually registered. We gave the opinion that you could - that they’d be legal.'
“Van Roggen also found Baker his land, nineteen acres of government property, seven miles up the Yukon River from Dawson. By then, Baker had convinced Quaker Oats that the promotion would work, and the company bought the land for $1000. Intrigued by the whole thing, Van Roggen drove the men from Whitehorse to Dawson and on an early, frigid morning. The three set out in an open skiff to inspect their property. ‘It was,’ Baker says, ‘the most exciting day of my life.’ (He has a wooden leg today to prove it.)
“Their guide for the trip up river was Constable Paul LeCocq, a real live Mountie from Montreal who was stationed in Dawson. LeCocq, Baker remembers, actually had a team of huskies led by a lead dog named Yukon King; and he received all the fan mail addressed to Sgt. Preston of the Yukon.
“John Baker, the lawyer, kept a diary of their trip to the Yukon; and here’s an excerpt from that fateful day:
We arose at about 5:15 am., and after getting dressed found it was still dark. It was several degrees below zero. Finally Paul appeared in his pickup truck. We bundled up as well as we could and went down to the river. It’s a forbidding sight with ice cakes zooming by at about six miles per hour.
'We didn’t have enough weight in the bow and the wake sprayed up over Paul and froze as it hit him; his leather jacket was soon completely covered with ice. Paul told us a human being couldn’t last more than three minutes in the water. We maneuvered upstream against the swift current for about forty minutes and came to a point opposite the land in question.
'Paul turned in toward shore and suddenly -- Crash! We smashed up on a rock. About fifteen gallons of water came in over the stern and immediately turned to ice in the bottom of the boat. We then paddled in about fifty yards, went ashore, and examined the motor. The shear pin had broken and we had no spare.
“They made a hurried inspection of the Quaker Oats property, which they described as ‘fairly level with a beach of stones about 100 feet wide; quite thick with jack pine and spruce, poplar and birch.’ Then they headed back, drifting with the current, wet and cold, to Dawson.
“ ‘I remember there were all these old guys, real Gabby Hayes types, living in cabins along the river,’ laughs Baker. ‘They must have wondered what was going on as we floated on by dressed in Brooks Brothers’ suits and Chesterfield coats. We had no hats and were just wearing shoes, no boots.
“ ‘The current was so strong that when we got to Dawson, we couldn’t stop. We just shot right by the town. I kept thinking I was going to wind up dead somewhere in the Arctic Circle. Finally the current changed, and we made it to shore.’
“Bruce Baker’s feet were badly frostbitten, and complications years later led to the amputation of his right leg below the knee. ‘When we got back,’ he says, ‘we headed straight for the bar in the hotel and proceeded to get pickled on 180-proof rum.’ ”
Quaker Oats formed a subsidiary, the Klondike Big Inch Land Co., incorporated in Illinois, to handle the promotion. Baker’s deeds could now be decorated with an official-looking corporate seal. The promotion was first announced on the Sgt. Preston network radio show on Jan. 27, 1955. At the same time, advertisements, “You’ll actually own one square inch of Yukon land in the famous gold country!” appeared in ninety-three newspapers.
The public response outdistanced Baker’s wildest dreams. Quaker Oats cereal sold as quickly as the deeds could be printed and stuffed into the boxes. Grocers even set up special Quaker Oats displays.
Quaker distributed over twenty-one million deeds. The yellow-framed, individually numbered certificates carried a corporate seal, a logo of a prospector panning for gold and a place for the owner to sign his, or her, name.
John Baker and George Van Roggen drew up the deeds for the giveaway scheme. “They were very carefully worded,” says Van Roggen. “Everything had to he absolutely legal - the competition in the food business was so strenuous that your competitors would try to get you on any small technicality.”
The deeds excluded mineral rights although the area had by then already been stripped of gold. They wanted to be sure that deed owners wouldn’t try to mine their square-inch properties. It was also stipulated that owners had to allow perpetual access, or “easements,” across their land to others who might wish to visit their own inches.
Quaker Oats still receives hundreds of inquiries every year from kids who have grown up and rediscovered a deed and from executors of estates who have come across a Big Inch deed in a deceased’s belongings. How much, they all want to know, is this land worth now? Is the deed genuine? Are there taxes owed on the land? Where exactly is it located?
But, alas, the replies carry sad news. Not only do these people not own the land now, they never did because each individual deed was never formally registered. The Klondike Big Inch Land Co., an Illinois subsidiary established to handle the cereal’s land affairs, has gone out of business. And anyway, the Canadian government repossessed all the land back in 1965 for nonpayment of $37.20 in property taxes.
Quaker has been threatened with lawsuits over the matter and is tired of the time and expense required to answer letters. Quaker executives cringe at the mention of the promotion. It’s unlikely, however, that a lawsuit would proceed very far. Since the Klondike Big Inch Land Co. has been dissolved, there’s nobody left to sue. In effect, it would be like suing a dead person who has left no assets. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that, thanks to the nostalgia boom, a number of memorabilia experts claim the old deeds are now worth as much as $90 each to collectors.
So, don’t throw that deed away. Today one of the deeds can sell on an Internet auction site for a lot more than the current retail price of a box of “breakfast cereal shot from guns.”
As Sgt. Preston would say: “Well, King, this case is closed.”
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2. One-ounce Pouch of Yukon Dirt, (1955), Quaker
Following up the land give-a-way, cereal eaters were offered a one-ounce “poke” pouch of genuine Yukon dirt for 25 cents. This promotion, too, was a success.
To Canadian lawyer Van Roggen, it was fun. “I called a fellow I knew in Dawson and told him to sift four tons of sand from the bed of the Klondike River. It had to be pebble-free, and I wanted him to store it in a warm warehouse. I couldn’t tell him, though, what we wanted it for. The people up there thought he’d gone out of his mind."
The sand was trucked to Whitehorse, packed into pouches, then sent overland to Anchorage, Alaska. It had to be mailed from there because of postal difficulties in sending it from Canada.
3. Dog Premium Cards, (1949), Quaker Oats
Each package of Quaker Puffed Rice and Quaker Puffed Wheat contained pictures and information on two breeds of dogs. The entire collection totaled totaled cards.
4. Yukon Adventure Story Cards, (1950), Quaker Oats Two action-packed, colorful pictures of life on the Yukon were found in each box of Puffed Rice and Wheat for a total of 36 cards.
They were issued first in 1950 to promote the radio series and reprinted in 1956 as an adjunct to the television
6. (Right) Map of the Yukon Territory, (1955), Quaker Oats
These are included because they came at the very beginning of the television series but, no doubt, were eagerly welcomed by Preston radio fans.
7. Whistle, (1956), Quaker Oats
The whistle was originally printed on a flat 3.5" x 4.5" waxed cardboard sheet.
8. Pocket comic books, 1956, Quaker Oats
The small comic books were entitled:
"How He Became a Sergeant"
"How Yukon King Saved Him from the
"How He Found Yukon King"
9. The Quaker Model Farm, (1948), QuakerOats
The farm was more likely a Quaker offering than a Sergeant Preston offering. It was available on package-backs of Quaker Puffed Rice or Wheat and consisted of forty-six different and detailed scale models of farm animals, buildings, and equipment - including Bossy, the cow and the Big Red Barn with a sliding door. There were eight different packages with as many as six new models in a single package - "forty-six different swell models in all!'
10. Great Adventure Games, (1949), Quaker Oats
Three Great Adventure Games, complete with game board, rules, and playing pieces, were featured on Quaker Puffed Wheat and Rice. Their titles were:
"The Great Yukon River Race"
"Sergeant Preston Gets His Man!"
"The Dog Sled Race"
11. Yukon Trail, (1949), Quaker Oats
Fifty-nine models of buildings and animals that were found along the Yukon Trail were featured on eight separate cereal packages. Cut and assembled, they gave the owner a real presence in the Yukon.
12. Yukon Scenes to Color, (1952), Quaker Oats
13. Trail Goggles,
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14. Firefighting set, (1940s), Quaker Oats
15. Signal flashlight, (1949), Quaker Oats
16. Scale model building kits of western wagons, 1953, Quaker Oats
A Stagecoach, Chuck Wagon, Buckboard, Great Plains Freighter, and a Covered Wagon were avaiable. Each was only 25c plus a boxtop, or all five wagons could be had for only $1 and a single boxtop. They were easy to assemble and were big, at least 4 1/2" long or more. And get this, they came with a money back guarantee!
17. Brass Police whistle with nylon cord,1950, Quaker Oats
18. Gold Ore dectector, (1952), Quaker Oats
The metal dectector is made from hard plastic operated by battery. "Zany Toys Ore Detector" is marked on the dials. The top center has a foil sticker with portrait of Sgt. Preston and Yukon King and an additional sticker around the working compass has the letters of the alphabet. Gauge appears at top beneath a clear plastic window. A battery is supposed to move gauge needle when unit is near metal.
19. Totem Pole Collection, (1952), Quaker Oats
20. Vinyl Records, (1952), Quaker Oats
78 or 45 rpm, $1 and a box top:
"Challenge of the Yukon/Maple leaf Forever"
"How He Became a Sergeant"
21. Vinyl Records, (1954), Quaker Oats
78 or 45 rpm, $1 and a box top:
"Case of the Orphan Dog"
"Case of the Indian Rebellion"
22. Movie Viewer
23. Prospector’s Camp Stove
24. Prospector’s Camp Tent, (1954), Quaker Oats
25. Skinning Knife, (1954), Quaker Oats
26. Distance finder, (1955), Quaker Oats
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27. Electrick 10 in-1 Trail Kit, (1956), Quaker Oats
28. Black and White Photo, 8.5 x 11, (1949), , Quaker Oats
29. Postcard-size Photos, (1949), Quaker Oats
30. Antique Cars, 5 models, 1954, Quaker Oats
31. North American Big Game Trophy Set, (1954), Quaker Oats
32. Western Gun Collection, 5 models, (1952), Quaker Oats
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