You’re familiar with the elves, Snap! Crackle! and Pop! Their onomatopoetic names match the very cereal they’ve repped since the ’30s—Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. In the years after that, the trio has withstood the influx of cartoon competitors like the Trix Rabbit, Lucky the Leprechaun, the Cookie Crisp thieves, Cap'n Crunch and many more. Lost in the shuffle, however, was a fourth Rice Krispies elf named Pow! His short life is a time-capsule of an era when everyone was dreaming big.
The history of the three (and for a moment, four) Kellogg's pitchelves begins in 1928 when the cereal first hit shelves and was marketed on radio programs for the way they “merrily snap, crackle and pop in a bowl of milk.” When artist Vernon Grant heard one of the jingles, he sketched a creature for each sound and sent his work to an ad agency in Philadelphia which was handling the Kellogg’s campaign at the time. (Later Kellogg’s worked with Leo Burnett Co., the same ad agency responsible for major characters like the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger, and the Keebler Elves). Grant referred to the trio as “my children.” Snap! appeared solo on the side of cereal boxes at first and was joined by his brothers in 1941. But they didn’t look like the elves you see today—at first they resembled boyish gnomes and all three had chef hats, as pictured in this 1939 animated short:
Today you’ll find the oldest of the bunch, Snap! in a chef’s hat; Crackle! the middle brother, with a knit beanie (hipsters rejoice!); and Pop! the youngest, tipping his marching band cap.
From 1948 through the mid ’50s, the brothers sponsored the popular children’s program “The Howdy Doody Show.” But in early 1950, Kellogg’s marketers snuck in a fourth friend, Pow. The company said in an email to Smithsonian.com, “[Pow] appeared in two TV commercials. The spaceman character was meant to exude the ‘power of whole grain rice.’ He was never considered an official character.”
These two scans of the original 1955 storyboard dug up from the Kellogg’s archives sketch out two versions of a 60-second commercial introducing the space-man:
In both versions, Pow flies in on what the document calls a helicopter, but what looks like what we’d consider to be a hovercraft. "Pow means power and power's nice! Rice Krispies power from whole grain rice!,” the voice over announces.
The weirdest thing about the space-helmet-wearing elf? He doesn’t speak, he just points at things. The voice over continues: "Now Pow doesn't say much...he just goes ahead and does things...like putting power into every...lightweight spoonful of Kellogg's Rice Krispies!"
Many questions remain unanswered: Why did they nix the Pow! character? From a marketing perspective, perhaps the original three brothers sounded better in a jingle? And why was he from outer space? Tim Hollis, author of “Part of a Complete Breakfast: Cereal Characters of the Baby Boom Era,” says it was common for children’s programs to include space-related characters at the time.
“There's not much to Pow! It's mostly because of the internet that he's even known at all,” Hollis says. “He was always just sort of a footnote...and at that particular time, everything was space oriented.”
Pow’s brief stint overlapped with Kellogg's sponsorship of the television program “Space Cadet” with Tom Corbett. Rice Krispies advertisements, like the one below featuring three brothers zipping around on flying saucers, tapped into the culture of the time.
“Flash Gordon,” the popular comic book series, was adapted into a live-action television show in 1954, and Disneyland, which opened in 1955, included “Tomorrowland,” a futuristic look at space travel. At the height of this Kellogg’s campaign, the Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was in its nascent stages.
The company issued patches from every manned mission into space from Freedom 7 through Apollo 10 that were included as prizes. And by 1969, sugar-coated Corn Flakes went into outer space as part of the Apollo 11 space crew's breakfast during their historic mission to the moon, according to the company’s website. (The air-tight space bag of cereal is currently in storage at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum).
Pow’s two-commercial stint as an unofficial Krispies character was short-lived, but it seems the original Rice Krispies gang is doing okay for themselves: they remain the first and longest-running cartoon mascots to represent a Kellogg’s product.