For lots of kids, having Mom or Dad buy you a box of cereal at the grocery store doesn’t just mean that you’ll be eating cereal for breakfast tomorrow. It also comes with the promise of something greater within: a prize. Be it a special treat waiting at the bottom of the box or something that required you to cut out those mysterious UPC codes and mail them in, there’s something about the allure of a cereal box prize that makes them an essential part of childhood. These 10 just might be the best ones ever.
Cereal box prizes actually have a rather long and storied history. The marketing strategy was introduced by none other than W.K. Kellogg himself, the inventor of Corn Flakes, which was the first cereal to come with a prize. A book called The Funny Jungleland Moving Pictures Book was given to customers who bought two packages of Corn Flakes in the early years of the twentieth century, and in 1909 it was changed to a mail-in offer, for 10 cents. The book went through many changes over the years, and was offered until 1937.[related]
While many of the first cereal box prizes were metal trinkets, one invention in particular changed the cereal box prize forever: the screw injection molding machine, by inventor James Watson Hendry, in 1946. Essentially, this allowed manufacturers to switch from metal to plastic, and to produce the toys at a much faster rate.
Cereal box prizes have undergone a lot of changes over the years, from secret decoder rings in the ‘50s to little Minions in 2015. But even as we get older and realize that these are, at their heart, nothing more than cheaply-made marketing tie-ins, the prospect of a free “prize inside” still carries a certain appeal, and will for generations to come.