One Square Inch of the Yukon
Fifty years ago, I yearned to own one square inch of the Yukon Territory.
Yukon Territory, Canada
The Canadian Klondike had been the scene of a gold rush in the 1890’s, and the region became the setting in 1953 for a television show called “Sgt. Preston of the Yukon.” It featured Sgt. Preston, a Royal Canadian Mountie, who, it seemed to me, was single-handedly in charge of keeping order in the Canadian Northwest Territories. Well, ok, he did have the help of his faithful horse Rex and his trusty Husky dog, Yukon King.
Yukon King and Sgt. Preston
I don’t remember what was on the other channel at the time (or maybe we had three channels of television by then), but I do remember that I was a faithful watcher of the show. But my interest peaked to a white-hot frenzy in January of 1955, when the show’s sponsor began including a deed for one square inch of the Yukon in each box of Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice!
This was in the golden era of product premiums, when nearly every product marketed to kids included a toy – I recall a magic decoder ring (that allowed one to decode a message that said to buy more Ovaltine), a miniature atomic submarine that alternately rose and sank when fueled with baking soda, even miniature hand puppets of Snap, Crackle, and Pop. Quaker Puffed Wheat and Quaker Puffed Rice were losing ground to the newer cereals and their alluring toys, until some advertising genius came up with the idea of giving away deeds to “One Square Inch of the Yukon.”
The front of the deed
I was eight years old in January of 1955, but already old enough to know that there wasn’t much one could do with one square inch of land. But I had an angle . . . an angle and a hunch, to be precise. The hunch was that if there had been gold in the Yukon, there was probably oil and gas there too, and the gold-crazed miners had forgotten to look for it.
I could center a drill bit on my one square inch of the Yukon and strike Black Gold! Hmmm . . . but wait, I would need four more strategically placed square inches for the corners of my oil rig. No matter! I was sure that once Mom heard my business plan, she would bankroll me on the spot for five boxes of Quaker Puffed Rice!
Imagine my astonishment when Mom turned down my request. I had always thought of her as being pretty bright! But not to see the genius of my plan . . . ?
To my ever-lasting chagrin, Mom and Dad had been brought up during what I understood as a medieval time called “The Depression,” and it seemed they were never able to get over it. What? Buy cereal when Dad can get it for free? Absolutely not.
To my great misfortune, Dad was a traffic manager for a food brokerage firm, and he could have, for free, any of the products that his firm handled. In January of 1955, his firm’s client list included Kellogg’s cereals, but not Quaker’s. Oh, the humanity!
I never got my one square inch(es) of the Yukon, and my life took other directions. But I never forgot about it, either. Years later, I did some research to find out what had happened to those 21 million square inches of Yukon land that had been accumulated by those lucky boys and girls who didn’t get Kellogg’s for free.
The Quaker Oats Company had set up a separate company, the Klondike Big Inch Land Company, as owner of the land (I suppose that was smarter than trying to register 21 million deeds), but they didn’t fund the company. When it didn’t pay a $37.20 tax bill on the land, the Canadian Government took it back! But even though the deeds no longer were connected to any land, the certificates themselves became collector items. There was a time when a One Square Inch deed sold for twice as much as a share of Quaker Oats stock! Pepsi bought Quaker Oats in 2001, so one can no longer compare the price of the deed to the price of the stock.
Although the ads did sell a lot of Quaker cereals, the follow-on promotion didn’t do as well, and the Sgt. Preston television show was cancelled in 1957. The follow-on promotion offered, for 25 cents, one-ounce “pokes,” (bags of Yukon river sand). Well, they might contain some Yukon gold dust, but they might not. I was from Missouri, so they had to show me . . . I wasn’t even interested in that scheme, and anyway, I was still bitter about losing out on all that gas and oil.
In the years that have followed, the Quaker Oats Company, the Yukon Lands Branch, and the Yukon Chamber of Commerce have had to answer thousands of inquiries from people wanting to know what has happened to their land. Allegedly, one man had used the after market to acquire enough deeds for 75 square feet of land, and he wrote to ask that they be consolidated into one big chunk of land “near the water.” I suspect he is eating Kellogg’s now.