Monday, April 20, 2015

The Birthplace of Muffets (Conclusion)

B1Perky MuffetsQkrOatsScott Perkys’ first year living in the village of Keeseville was a busy one. He became involved in community activities, and in July his daughter Melissa was born in Plattsburgh. A short time later he applied for a patent application for a new food product that would become known as Muffets, a round version of shredded wheat biscuits.

Scott’s knowledge of his father’s patents on the cereal and the machines to make it, which had expired in 1912, allowed him to recreate that work with major modifications.

Through business connections, he established a factory in Batavia, New York, midway between Rochester and Buffalo. In 1923, The Muffets Corporation was established, and in 1924 the Perkys moved to Batavia so that Scott could oversee operations that had become quite successful. The business was housed in a modern, three-story facility, stocked with machinery designed by Perky, and all of it – the machinery, building, and land – was free of debt. The appraised value was $121,600 (about $1.7 million today), and with business flourishing, an expansion valued at nearly $7 million was begun in 1925.

Scott Perky owned the licenses to everything, and in 1928, he began collection royalties after selling the company to Quaker Oats for $2 million (about $27 million in 2015). Quaker Oats moved operations elsewhere, and in 1928, Perky established a new company in Batavia, Toasticks, for the further production of cereal foods. With all his success, it wasn’t difficult finding investors. Toasticks, a cereal made of barley, oats, and wheat and cooked in “small, crisp sticks” became very popular. By 1929 he had added Ricesticks to the product line, followed by Tatersticks in 1931. Meanwhile, Muffets had gone national under Quaker Oats, providing ongoing royalties to a man who seemed to have the Midas touch in business.

In the 1930s, with Scott now in his fifties, he and Katherine began spending more and more time away from Batavia. He worked in food research and exporting for the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company on Long Island, and for about half of several consecutive years, the family stayed at the exclusive Seawane Club in Hewlitt. In 1935, they moved to Dayton, Ohio, where he continued working for Loose-Wiles, which later became Sunshine Biscuits.

In the mid-1940s, the Perkys returned to Keeseville, and in June 1947, their children Joel and Melissa opened the Village Inn, where Scott and his wife Katherine now lived. The inn was operated under Perkwill Inc., consisting of son Joel, and daughter Melissa and her husband Clem as president (Joel used his nickname, “Jock,” in advertising the business). Less than a year after the inn opened, a job opportunity led to the eventual relocation of Clem and Melissa to Massachusetts, leaving Jock in charge. Scott and Katherine continued living at the inn, and enjoyed periodic stays in Massachusetts with their daughter as well.

To look after certain business needs, Scott made several trips to San Antonio, Texas, and even began wintering there, but he and Katherine spent much of their time in Keeseville. In 1948, their son Jock wed Marian Stoughton, and by mid-1951, three of Scott’s grandchildren had been born in Plattsburgh, firmly establishing family roots in Keeseville.

B2Perky MuffetsBoxDepewBy 1953, Jock and Marian were operating a florist shop known as Perky Flowers, a firm that lasted more than fifty years. Scott and Katherine spent much of their time in Keeseville with family. When Scott Perky died in 1958, he was buried in Clintonville, halfway between Keeseville and Ausable Forks. Katherine survived until late December 1973. She was also interred at Clintonville.

Scott Perky’s legacy lives on today, for the Muffets he created 95 years ago are still a strong part of Quaker Oats sales. And in 1955, three years before Scott Perky passed away, he may have taken some pleasure in observing one of the most successful marketing campaigns in American history – it involved Quaker Oats Puffed Rice, Puffed Oats, and Muffets, his very own creation.

It was called the Klondike Big Inch Land Promotion, and eventually included in each box of cereal a deed to one square inch of Yukon Territory (land that the company had purchased for purposes of the promotion and divided into 21 million tiny “lots”). The allure of owning a piece – albeit a very tiny piece – of the northern wilds was seized upon by the public, leading to many empty grocery shelves.

Because the deeds were never actually recorded, they were deemed useless years later, but it didn’t end there. Over time, thousands of “land owners” have contacted Yukon officials to determine the value of their holdings, something that is still happens more than a half-century later. The campaign remains legendary in the annals of advertising.

Muffets are still with us today, part of the Quaker Oats family of products under the umbrella of Pepsico. The shredded wheat cereals created by Henry and Scott Perky have added billions to the company’s coffers, and have since been copied by other companies.

So if your North Country day has ever gotten off to a perky start with a scrumptious bowl of shredded wheat, now you know why.

Photos: Muffets boxes by Quaker Oats and Muffets Corporation.

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Lawrence P. Gooley

Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

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