Even in the Cereal Capital of the World, there had never been a promotion quite like it.
Sure, Wheaties had used its boxes to portray individual players in the 1930s– and even a mini set of rather unexciting cards meant to be cut from the back in 1952– but the 1961 Post Cereal baseball card set was a massive undertaking.
For three years, in fact, Post was a big-time baseball card manufacturer. The launch of that first set drew the attention of the Associated Press.
The Battle Creek Enquirer, located just a stone’s throw from where C.W. Post had founded his breakfast company in the 1890s, was one of the newspapers that carried the story. It included a photo of a teenage newspaper carrier posing with the cards and boxes.
The newspaper’s story offered some insight into how the promotion came together and even the names of the people at the company who were responsible for the details like setting up which boxes held which configuration of players.
The story indicated the idea had came to fruition a year earlier. While Post had produced a small series of individual multi-sport stars on its Grape Nuts boxes in 1960 that are rare today, the baseball card set was a different animal.
Post executives had invested significant resources in producing fresh photographs, text and stats, not to mention the logistics of designing and printing the cards on the backs of boxes that were often varied in size.
“There have been baseball trading cards printed as wrap-in premiums before, but never in the merchandising field has any company before assembled, photographed, engraved and printed 200 likenesses of as many players from one year’s major league teams,” wrote Jack Lefler, a business reporter for the Associated Press who hammered out the story in June of 1961.
Lefler reported that Post had put 400 million cards on the backs of its cereal. It’s an almost unfathomable total but considering how common Post cards are these days, it’s safe to say a fairly sizeable number of them have survived to this day. Lefler also stated that the company told him they didn’t short print Mickey Mantle, as was apparently the rumor at the time.
The story mentions the opportunity to send in two box tops and a dime for a team set of your choice. It also detailed the infamous faux pas that came from the error that initially labeled players from the newly formed Minnesota Twins as “Minneapolis.” As we wrote awhile ago, Post used the “goof” as an extensive marketing campaign in Twin Cities newspapers.
And if you’ve never noticed, the company put in what Lefler referred to as a “sly plug” for Post’s home turf. The 1961 Post Cereal card of Ken Hamlin reads that he “hails from Battle Creek, Mich., Cereal Capital of the World.”