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Wheaties didn't play very well in Peoria. They didn't play very well much of anywhere. In fact, they were going stale on grocery shelves until Christmas Eve of 1926. On that night, what is believed to be the first singing commercial was aired. Four men, who came to be known as the Wheaties Quartet, sang the following lyrics to the tune of She's A Jazz Baby on the Washburn Crosby-owned radio station WCCO in Minneapolis:
Have you tried Wheaties?
They're whole wheat with all of the bran.
Won't you try Wheaties?
For wheat is the best food of man.
Sales picked up considerably in the WCCO listening area, and the Wheaties Quartet, consisting of an undertaker, a bailiff, a printer and a businessman, would sing that song over the air for the next six years at $6 apiece a week.
Elsewhere, though, Wheaties wasn't packing any crunch. By 1929 General Mills was ready to drop the brand altogether. At a crucial meeting of the board of directors, only advertising manager Samuel Chester Gale spoke up for the product. Gale pointed out that of 53,000 cases sold nationwide in 1929, 30,000 had been bought in the Minneapolis St. Paul area, where the quartet had been singing. Don't drop Wheaties, argued Gale, expand the radio advertising. Gale swayed the directors and saved the day.
Sales tripled in the first year of national advertising. In 1931 Wheaties discovered the box top and sales quadrupled over the previous year's level. Wheaties began sponsoring the Skippy show, based on the adventures of the character in Percy Crosby's comic strip. James Thurber described the madness that followed in an essay called O Pioneers! that was part of a series entitled "Soapland":
"The kiddies loved 'Skippy,' and Wheaties became a household word.... You could get all this paraphernalia [a code book, instructions for a secret handshake] by sending in box tops, or facsimiles, and a signed statement from your mother that you ate Wheaties twice a day. A popular but somewhat unfortunate contest was staged, and the young winner, who got a free trip to Chicago and a week of entertainment, turned out to be a difficult brat who hated Wheaties and whose many brothers and sisters had helped him send in more facsimiles of the Wheaties box top than any other contestant."
The Wheaties box also began to change, growing in size and switching from blue to a burnt orange to the familiar orange. An early box is currently on display in the movie Pennies from Heaven. The character played by Steve Martin eats Wheaties for breakfast.