A company that has been advertising recently on otherwise respectable YouTube channels brought to mind a nostalgic scam I recall from childhood, the Klondike Big Inch Land Company.
This was an invention by Chicago advertising man Bruce Baker in 1955 as a promotion for the Quaker Oats Company, which wished to promote their cereals to children, who were attracted to competitors’ products by gimmicks such as “a prize in every box” or “send two boxtops for…”. At the time Quaker Oats was a long-term sponsor of the radio adventure series Challenge of the Yukon and its just-launched television successor Sergeant Preston of the Yukon about the redoubtable Mountie Sgt. Preston and his heroic dog King, who had been raised by a female wolf. The series was popular with children as well as adults, and Baker thought of a perfect promotional tie-in with the show.
In 1954, Quaker Oats purchased a 19.11 acre parcel (Group 2 in lot 243 on the west bank of the Yukon River) for the sum of US$ 1000, and then printed up 21 million “deeds” each for one square inch of land within the “subdivided” parcel. (The math doesn’t seem to work for this: according to Units Calculator
19.11 acre = 1.1987015e+08 inch^2, so I guess they only used part of the land, reserving the rest for future promotions.)
Anyway, the campaign was launched in January, 1955 in 93 newspapers around the U.S. in advertisements headlined “Get a real deed to one square inch of land in the Yukon gold rush country” and “You’ll actually own one square inch of Yukon land”, including a form readers could mail in with a box top from Quaker cereals to receive the deed for their Yukon homestead. This caught the eye of the Ohio Securities Division who, in February 1955, banned the promotion until Quaker Oats obtained a state license for “sale” of foreign land. In response, the company simply started including the “deeds” in each box of cereal.
The whole thing was a sham and scam. The “deeds” were never registered, and those who received them were not owners of anything. And to gild the scamminess, the “deeds” excluded mineral rights, so just in case a few flecks of gold should be found beneath the square inch of Yukon land the deed-holder didn’t actually own, they didn’t own it either.
The promotion was a big success, and made an impact in popular culture. In 1956, a Scrooge McDuck comic book parodied the event in an adventure where Uncle Scrooge visits the square inch of land in Texas he found in his breakfast cereal, believes he has discovered oil beneath it, and sends Donald and the nephews off to buy up cereal boxes around the country to assemble the neighbouring square inches into an oil field.
In 1965, the Canadian government repossessed the parcel for CAD 37.20 in unpaid back taxes, and the Great Klondike Big Inch Land Company was dissolved in 1966. The land is now part of the Dawson City Golf Course. Officials in the Yukon still get letters from people who discover the “deeds” in attics and inquire about “their” land. This article, “The Klondike Big Inch”, on Yukoninfo.com, includes some sample letters from a file which is said to be 18 inches thick.
Anyway, that was 1955 and today, in 2022, we’d never fall for something so silly. Would we? Would you like to become a Scottish Laird (or Lady)? Well, check out the “Lordship & Ladyship Title Packs” being peddled by “Established Titles” of Lessendrum, Huntly, Scotland.
Each Lord Title Pack includes:
- A dedicated plot of land measuring 1 square foot, 5 square feet or 10 square feet.
- A personalized title certificate with your name or the name of the title holder.
- A unique plot number that will be assigned to the title holder.
- Your digital certificate will be emailed to you within 24 hours.
- We plant a tree for every order.
- A digital personalised members handbook.
I think the Big Inch “deeds” looked a lot better, and they were actually printed on paper and suitable for framing once you brushed off the oats and sugar.
A one square foot estate costs only US$ 49.95, but there are no discounts available for including boxtops. Similarly to the Big Inch Land Company, the Established Titles Frequently Asked Questions page notes:
What are souvenir plots?
The plots of land themselves are recognised and referred to as ‘souvenir plots’ in Scotland. Though souvenir plots are typically too small to be registered with the Scottish Land Registry directly, we maintain our own private records and take our arrangements with our Lords and Ladies very seriously.