Posted on 04 Feb 2014 21:51
Cap'n Crunch, to me, is the iconic childhood breakfast cereal. I have a particular love for Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch and no other peanut butter imitators, no matter how good, can replace it. Reese's? No way. I love Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, but give me Cap'n Crunch for peanut butter cereal. And of course, that is not meant to take anything away from regular Cap'n Crunch, I'm just a peanut butter man. I can't deny the influence, however, of the early television ads. These were full-blown spots that featured the Cap'n, his ship, the S.S. Guppy; and his first mate, the dog named, aptly, Seadog. These animated spots were produced by Jay Ward Productions, also responsible for such awesomeness as Rocky and Bullwinkle.1 Having breakfast cereal commercials (marketed to kids), be like mini-cartoons shows in their own right was common in those days. Kellog's did it as well with Frosted Flakes commercials.
The Cap'n Crunch spots (the good ones) ran from the 60's through the 70's (the cereal was introduced in 1963 by Quaker Oats). During the time I was watching these spots, I never knew the Cap'n had a full name. Was this name ever mentioned on one of the commercials? I don't know. Why did they bother to give him a full name at all? Well, you'd be surprised. Most brand icons in those days had full names, whether they were ever explicitly mentioned, or not. The Cap'n's name was Horatio Crunch. Cap'n Horatio Crunch, besides his first-mate Seadog, had a crew of children: Brunhilde, Alfie, Dave, and little Carlyle. He also encountered many silly enemies like the Pirate Jean LaFoote, Smedley the Elephant, and Soggles, evil sea creatures who wanted to get ahold of the ship's cargo. The cargo, of course, was Cap'n Crunch cereal. Below, you can watch the very first Cap'n Crunch TV spot, called Breakfast on the Guppy.
Best Cereal Box Prize Ever: Free Long Distance Calls!
As much as the TV cartoons influenced my devotion to Cap'n Crunch — which has waned but never truly wilted — there were also free prizes in the boxes which were a bit more high-quality (to a kid's mind) than other cereal-box prizes. They'd have comic books, and all sorts of great things. One famous free prize was a toy whistle called a bosun's whistle. The whistle, at some point, gave rise to the famous legend of John Draper, a.K.a the hacker Captain Crunch. He is said to have discovered that the whistle, when you blew it, produced a nearly precise 2600 Hz tone. If you dialed a long distance number, and then blew the whistle into the mouthpiece, this tone would terminate the call. At least, it would terminate the call as far as AT&T knew. In reality, the line on the other end would remain open, allowing you to continue the call without being charged for it. The technical reason for this is beyond my understanding (I'm just regurgitating my research), but it has something to do with sending the tone down a long-distance trunk, which would terminate the call, and then seize another trunk for reuse once the tone stopped.
This practice gave rise to what was called blueboxing, which was the first automated tool fraud technique used to defraud phone companies. A box (the first one discovered was blue) was used to get free long-distance and international calls using 800 numbers, employing not only the 2600 Hz tone but a series of tones called "multifrequency" or MF tones. Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs are said to have made their own bluebox before they made the Apple computer and John Draper was a big technical adviser to them and others, called "phone phreaks." He also became one of the first Apple employees.
Although John Draper is the subject of the legend, he is not the first person to realize that a 2600 Hz tone could be use to get free calls. There were also a group of blind phreakers, who, it is claimed, had perfect pitch and could produce this tone themselves by whistling into the phone. Joe Engressia, a.k.a. Joybubbles, was one of these. The blue box wasn't the last gadget the phone phreaks community made, and this was the first form of "hacking" which later became internet hacking.
Quisp and Quake Joint Commercial, 1965
Below is the joint intro commercial for Quisp cereal and Quake cereals by Quaker Oats. This was produced by Ward's company in 1965. Ward also made commercials for Aunt Jemima pancake mix and other products.