The Yukon Square Inch Land Rush of 1955

Dec 1, 2020 1 comments

Marketers give away freebies all the time to generate buzz and promote their products. Usually these freebies are cheap trinkets like toys, keyrings and trading cards that cost next to nothing to produce. But back in the 1950s, a Chicago advertising executive named Bruce Baker came up with a stranger-than-fiction marketing gimmick for the Quaker Oats Company. Instead of toys, Baker decided that the cereal manufacturer should give away land, real land in gold-rich Yukon county in Canada, with every box of Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat. At first his bosses scoffed at the idea, but then he explained, the land would be really small, just a square inch in size.

Klondike Big Inch Land Promotion

Newspaper advertisement of the Klondike Big Inch Land Promotion.

The company’s attorneys still hated the idea. They argued that even in the remote hinterlands of western Canada, the only way to create legal lots would be to prepare a survey map. Worse still, the deeds would have to be registered which would cost the company a fortune.

Undaunted, Baker and two other men chartered a plane and flew to Yukon. They met a local attorney named Van Roggen and explained the situation. The men wanted to know whether Canadian laws allowed a land holder to give away deeds that were not individually registered in the land records system. The bemused attorney replied that they could. That was all Baker needed to hear. He flew back jubilant and convinced Quaker Oats to acquire 19.11 acres of government land, about seven miles up the Yukon River from Dawson City. The company paid $1,000 for the land.

Quaker Oats set up a new company called the Great Klondike Big Inch Land Company and transferred the land ownership to the new company. Then, they divided the property into 21 million 1-square-inch plots and had a deed of land printed for each plot. The deeds looked very official, were individually numbered, handsomely lettered and imprinted with the regal seal of the Klondike Big Inch Land Co.

Klondike Big Inch Land Promotion

Klondike Big Inch Land Promotion

Klondike Big Inch Land Promotion Certificate from February 1955. Photo: Ashrkfn/Wikimedia Commons

The deed was carefully worded. “Everything had to he absolutely legal,” explained Van Roggen. “The competition in the food business was so strenuous that your competitors would try to get you on any small technicality.”

The deeds excluded mineral rights. It was also stipulated that owners had to allow “a perpetual easement for ingress and egress” across their land to others who might wish to visit their own inches. In other words, other landowners might have to trespass on your square inch to reach theirs. To find a plot, the company’s attorneys’ devised a master plan where deeds were numbered consecutively, beginning from the northwest corner of the 19 acres. If you wanted to find a certain lot number, you would start at the northwest corner, go X number of inches east, then go Y number of inches south, and there it would be. 

The ad campaign was launched on the Sergeant Preston radio show in January 27, 1955. It also appeared in nearly a hundred newspapers across the country. The campaign was a sensational success. Quaker Oats cereal boxes flew off of grocers' shelves. People bought dozens of boxes in the hope that they could consolidate all their square-inch plots into something more substantial. One guy had over 10,000 deeds which he wanted to convert them into one single piece of property a little less than a quarter-acre.

Meanwhile, letters poured in to Quaker Oats offices. New landowners wanted to know where their land was located, how much it was worth, and if there was any gold there? One kid sent in four toothpicks and some string, requesting his inch be fenced.

In 1956, the Klondike Big Inch Land Promotion became the inspiration for a Uncle Scrooge McDuck story, where Scrooge visits his square inch of land in Texas and finds a prairie dog with oil on its feet leads leading Scrooge to believe there is oil under his land. Donald Duck and the nephews buy cereal boxes around the country to obtain the neighboring square inches so that Scrooge can drill for the oil. Later, Scrooge discovers the oil had come from leaking car engine.

Klondike Big Inch Land Promotion

Initially, Quaker Oats asked customers to fill out an order and mail the top of the box to receive a deed. But when the Ohio Securities Division ruled that Quaker couldn’t trade a square inch of the Yukon for a box top without a license to sell foreign land, the company decided to put the deeds inside the boxes.

Unfortunately, these deeds were worthless because none of them were formally registered. In 1965, the Great Klondike Big Inch Land Company was dissolved and the land went back to Canada. The Canadian government would have repossessed the land back anyway, for Quaker Oats never paid any property tax, which had amounted to a staggering $37.20 by the time the company had gone out of business.

For decades, Quaker Oats continued to receive letters of inquiry from kids who had grown up and rediscovered a deed, and from attorneys who had come across a Big Inch deed in a deceased’s belongings. They wanted to know how much their land was worth, where it was located, or if they owned any taxes.

“The deeds were not meant to have any intrinsic value,” Quaker now says, “but rather to give the consumer the romantic appeal of being the owner of a square inch of land in the Yukon.”

The 5 by 7 inch deeds, however, still hold some value. The documents can fetch anywhere from $10 to $40 on internet auctions.


# Taking Stock: Decades-old deed to one square inch of Canada’s Yukon Territory has some value, The Oklahoman
# Klondike Big Inch Land Company,
# Folks still make claims in Sgt. Preston’s Yukon, The Montreal Gazette
# The Klondike Big Inch - Yukon Territory Information,
# Mark J. Price, Local history: Quaker Oats prize creates Yukon land rush in 1955, Akron Beacon Journal


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