The Force in the North


Wonderbread was the first company to use the Mountie image to increase sales. “Renfrew of the Mounted” pins, maps and photo buttons were offered as prizes by the Wonderbread Company.

Wonderbread’s campaign worked but the most memorable and most ambitious use of the Mountie was undertaken by Quaker Oats. Quaker Oats’ campaign of firing their ready-to-eat cereal through toy cannons that you could own was failing. The company needed a dramatic figure to help sell its products.

“Now, as howling winds echo across the snow-covered reaches of the wild North-West, the Quaker Oats Company, makers of Quaker Puffed Wheat and Quaker Puffed Rice, the delicious cereal shot from guns, presents Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.”

Sergeant Preston was already familiar to radio listeners when Quaker Oats picked him up. Quaker Oats replaced their serialized Terry and the Pirates with Sergeant Preston in the late 1940s and ran the program until the late 1950s.

Quaker Oats gave away comic books inside its cereal boxes and a special collection of phonograph records was available for one dollar and a box top. A reproduction of Sergeant Preston’s police whistle, which he used to summon his faithful companion, Yukon King, was popular.  “On King, on you huskies!” was a familiar cry to radio listeners and television viewers. Sergeant Preston signal flashlights, skinning knives, buttons, dog cards, a Yukon village, a fire-fighting set, pedometers, a totem pole set and a very elaborate trail kit were also sold by Quaker Oats.

The most successful sales campaign using the image of Sergeant Preston was a Quaker Oats campaign, where the top prize for cereal buyers was one square-inch of the Yukon. The company created a subsidiary called the Yukon Big Inch Land Company and bought 19 acres of land on the Yukon River for $1,000. The deeds excluded mining rights, but that did not stop collectors who wanted an easy way to own land “in the famous gold country.” Twenty-one million deeds were printed and the cereal sold as fast as the boxes were put on the shelf. A successful follow-up campaign offered a one-ounce poke of “genuine Yukon dirt.” The dirt was from the Yukon but was shipped from Alaska. This made no difference to the campaign as “most Americans think the Klondike is in Alaska anyway.” In an effort to connect the campaign to the Mounted Police, Constable Paul LeCocq, a real Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in Dawson City, had a team of huskies and a lead dog named Yukon King. LeCocq answered all the fan mail addressed to “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.” The Yukon Big Inch Land deeds are still a much sought-after collector's item. Yukon government officials and workers at the Dawson City Museum are often asked by people in possession of Big Inch Land deeds whether they actually have title to a valuable slice of Yukon soil.