In The Season Of Christmas: One Last Story To Fill You Up And Prepare You For Your Day- Now And Forever
Jack Armstrong: All American Boy
We are at war and we need to be prepared. What better way to be prepared everyday for many generations was to eat your Wheaties.
Ready for the big game, you better eat your Wheaties.
Brothers and sisters, there is some truth in that as we are about to come to the end of another bowl season, why not enjoy another bowl of Wheaties and learn how to turn our defeats into victories.
This may be a bit of a wander for this article, but I have been inspired to talk about a problem that is pervasive in our society today. Many are leaving the house to go to work or school without eating nutritious food and along this same line we are going through life without God. Brothers and sisters we need both. At one time in the United States, Church attendance was almost three times as great as it is today. Was there a direct correlation?
We were all called to be evangelists for the Lord. We are in need of that Jack Armstrong once again in our society. Who will that person be? Will it be you?
‘“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?” –Romans 10:13-15
We are all called to be evangelists. Here is a Evangelism prayer of the USCCB
pour forth your Holy Spirit to inspire me with these words from Holy Scripture.
Stir in my soul the desire to renew my faith
and deepen my relationship with your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ
so that I might truly believe in and live the Good News.
Open my heart to hear the Gospel
and grant me the confidence to proclaim the Good News to others.
Pour out your Spirit, so that I might be strengthened to go forth
and witness to the Gospel in my everyday life through my words and actions.
In moments of hesitation, remind me:
If not me, then who will proclaim the Gospel?
If not now, then when will the Gospel be proclaimed?
If not the truth of the Gospel, then what shall I proclaim?
God, our Father, I pray that through the Holy Spirit
I might hear the call of the New Evangelization to deepen my faith,
grow in confidence to proclaim the Gospel
and boldly witness to the saving grace of your Son, Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Now, the rest of the story. We need to speak to our friends, we need to use social media and our contacts just like a small company used a new media back on Dec. 24, 1926 to save their company
This is a story of despair turning into success through the use of the popular media of the day. Maybe the Church could use a little of this today? Think of it like this, where is this generation’s media rock star like Bishop Fulton Sheen at? Maybe the truth of the matter is that those special people come by only once in every generation. If this is the case, then this article was written to inspire the next generation of social media leaders to take up the mantle and become warriors for Christ, now and forever. If we are going to be evangelists- then doing it on social media would being using new technology to spread the Gospel all around the world.
Today’s story is about a character: Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy and the cereal he ate everyday- Wheaties. It was a creation of General Mills, a pioneer in the development of unique and compelling advertising under the stewardship of Vice-president of Advertising, Samuel Chester Gale. In fact, to be quite honest his advertising campaign saved the company.
Suppose you have the perfect recipe for success and no one knows about it? The wholesome image stems from the cereal’s origins in 1921 when a dietitian mixing a batch of bran gruel for his patients spilled some on a hot stove top. He took the toasted flakes to General Mills’ predecessor, Washburn Crosby Co. This is what started the idea of Wheaties. Washburn Crosby Co. wanted to diversify and take advantage of increased consumerism.
Introduced in 1924, Wheaties was the Washburn Crosby Co.’s first product other than flour. The Post Cereal Company had corn flakes. No other company had wheat flakes. There was probably a good reason. Wheat flakes did not hold up as well as corn flakes when you added milk. In fact, what flakes turned soggy much more quickly than the corn and people were not buying them. Washburn Crosby was thinking about even getting rid of the product completely and getting out of the breakfast business completely. Initially known as “Washburn’s Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes,” the name was dropped a year later for Wheaties. (Washburn Crosby was the predecessor company of General Mills). Can you imagine today General Mills not being in the cereal business? Of course not, yet that was a distant future.
After its first two years, the cereal failed to catch on. Some on the company’s board wanted to scrap the product and stick with processing grain. Why need a wheat flake was their mantra. Others saw a future in diversifying with a product like Wheaties.
That’s when Donald Davis, company vice president (later President of General Mills), stepped in to help. He contacted the manager of the WCCO radio station – which at the time was owned by Washburn Crosby Co. (hence the call letters-WCCO) – and suggested a special radio campaign for Wheaties. Davis had recently successfully worked on the Betty Crocker campaign.
Davis wanted to prove the effectiveness of WCCO or, in his words, “find out what that radio station of ours is good for.” Remember that the first radio station in the United States was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Radio stations began to pop up all over the country. The main problem was it took a little while to figure out how radio would make money. Once they figured that radio stations would be a very good way to sell advertising, it took no time for smart advertising executives to create ways to get their messages across to their consumers.
In early December 1926, Davis met with Henry A. Bellows, then WCCO manager, and Earl Gammons, the station’s publicity man, who wrote the jingle, which borrowed the chorus melody from the popular 1919 song “Jazz Baby.”
To perform the song, Washburn Crosby enlisted a vocal quartet that included an undertaker, a court bailiff, a printer and a businessman. They sang live at a Christmas tree lot and many people were attracted to buy trees at that lot. Davis thought that if worked in person it would also work on the radio. No one except a genius like Davis could possibly have seen the results of this one decision.
The need was great. Washburn Crosby had an unique product that no one else had- wheat flakes. They had a distinctive orange package and more importantly they had a wonderful message. Davis was sold on his product and believed in the power of radio. He knew if he could get the message out, the boxes of Wheaties would fly off the shelves.
Thus, the world’s first singing commercial was born. It was performed live on WCCO Radio on Christmas Eve in 1926. Now, consumers in Minneapolis- St. Paul heard over the radio, four male singers sing, “Have you tried Wheaties? They’re whole with all the bran. Won’t you try Wheaties? For wheat is the best food of man.” See https://youtu.be/--Kb7m7zwrk
The singers became known as the Wheaties Quartet, made up of an undertaker, a bailiff, a printer and a businessman. They would go on to sing the Wheaties song live on-air for years for $6 per person each week. The success was immediate and the advertising worked very well. It was only played on WCCO radio and the sales in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area grew rapidly. However, sales in the rest of the United States lagged far, far behind.
In 1929, General Mills wanted to drop the Wheaties brand before its advertising manager revealed that 30,000 of the 53,000 cases sold that year were bought in the Minneapolis area, where the Wheaties Quartet commercial was regularly broadcast. The singing commercials began to air nationwide and sales soared. Ever since the advertising on WCCO Radio- Wheaties was the Number One serial in the Twin Cities and over 70% of the sales nationwide were in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Davis wondered if it worked so well in the Twin Cities, how would it work on a national level if they had the right show to advertise on?
Sam Gale, (Director of Advertising General Mills) later served as President of the Ad Council, and his advertising team came up with some content shows that would push their content to the intended target audience. Gale knew that the target audience would be mothers and their children. They would sell the mothers on the idea of convenience and health benefits of eating Wheaties cereal. They would sell the kids on the idea that if you ate your Wheaties you could grow up just like these fictional characters. Intending to promote breakfast cereal Wheaties, Gale developed the character of Jack Armstrong as a fictitious "everyboy" whom listeners would emulate: If Jack ate Wheaties, boys across the nation would, too. Early popularity led to commissioning of a radio cereal broadcast.
Then the advertising people also came up with premiums and box tops. You could obtain a premium from Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy program, offered in 1940, was a ring called the Dragon's Eye Ring, with images of crocodiles supporting a greenish "stone" made of Tenite. They offered box tops for Jack Armstrong or Wheaties products.
Now they had a real winning combination- a hit radio show pushing Wheaties. Wheaties flew off the shelves not only in Minneapolis or St. Paul but now all over the United States. The lyrics stuck in the minds of the consumers and the consumers stuck behind their favorite cereal making Wheaties the number one cereal in the nation for most of the run of Jack Armstrong.
Have you tried Wheaties?
They’re whole with all the bran. Won’t you try Wheaties?
For wheat is the best food of man.
While the adventures were a product of Gale's and his team’s imagination, there really was a real Jack Armstrong, a member of Sam Gale's college fraternity, Phi Sigma Kappa at the University of Minnesota. Gale met Jack while serving as a young advisor to the fraternity, and being impressed by both the red-blooded name and the "wholesome nature" of the young man, he incorporated it as the name of his new invented spokesman. The adventures which captivated listeners each week were entirely fictitious, and led to good-natured ribbing throughout Armstrong's life. Another creation of Sam Gale's fertile mind was the iconic Betty Crocker.
The radio serial maintained its popularity from 1933 to 1951. The storylines centered on the globe-trotting adventures of Armstrong (played by Jim Ameche until 1938 and later portrayed by Michael Rye), a popular athlete at Hudson High School, his friends Billy Fairfield and Billy's sister Betty, and their Uncle Jim, James Fairfield, an industrialist. Frequently, Uncle Jim Fairfield would have to visit an exotic part of the world in connection with his business, and he would take Jack Armstrong and the Fairfield siblings along with him.
Many of the adventures provided listeners with the equivalent of a travelogue, providing facts about the lands they were visiting. The show was created by writer Robert Hardy Andrews. Sponsored throughout its long run by Wheaties, the program was renamed Armstrong of the SBI when Jack graduated from high school and became a government agent in the final season, when it shifted from a 15-minute serial to a half-hour complete story format. Throughout its broadcast span, the program offered radio premiums that usually related to the adventures in which Jack and his friends were involved.
Each episode started a quartet quietly singing the first line of the Hudson High School Fight Song: "Wave the flag for Hudson High, boys, show them how we stand. Ever shall our team be champions, known throughout the land" (quartet continues humming)
Wheaties today is having an identity crisis. This crisis is much like what is happening in the Church today. In the 1960s, the iconic American cereal dubbed "the breakfast of champions" represented nearly 7% of all cereal sold in the United States. Today the General Mills owned brand has dropped to a mere .5 percent of sales, according to Darren Rovell at CNBC. With the Church attendance in the early part of the 1960’s at an all time high- today the Church attendance is a mere fraction of what it once was. That was even before COVID. Now, with COVID and a pandemic that has pushed attendance to new lows, we need to look for new ways to grab people’s attention and spread the word of God. General Mills used a new media in the 1920’s to save their company, Bishop Fulton Sheen used another new media in the 1950’s to educate millions of people about the Church, who will do this in 2022 for the Church? Brothers and sisters we need to find this person to fill us up so we too can be prepared for the dangers that lie before us. Amen