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6 Unfamiliar Champions Who Appeared on Wheaties Boxes

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As the "Breakfast of Champions," Wheaties won't put just anyone on their iconic orange boxes. Most of the athletes to appear on the General Mills cereal's boxes since Lou Gehrig became the first in 1934 have been household names from a major sport. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Ken Griffey Jr. come to mind. But there have been a handful of exceptions to the rule. Here's a closer look at some of the less familiar names to hit the breakfast table on boxes of Wheaties over the years.

1. Denny Brauer, Angler

After he won Angler of the Year honors in 1998, Wheaties made Brauer the first fisherman to appear on the front of the box. PETA objected to Brauer's depiction and distributed postcards in protest that referred to fishermen as "cereal killers" and included the message, "Weenies: the Breakfast of Lip-Rippers." Wheaties issued the following statement in response: "We certainly respect their right to object and protest our decision, but we must disagree with PETA when they say that fishing is not a sport." According to the New York Post, nearly 75 percent of the boxes featuring Brauer were bought within the first week of their release. David Walker, the 1999 Angler of the Year, also appeared on a Wheaties box.

2. Myriam Bedard, Biathlete

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Representing Canada, Bedard won two gold medals in the biathlon at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, including the 7.5 km race on a pair of mismatched skis. Following her Olympic triumphs, she was the toast of the town in her native Quebec. In addition to landing on the front of a Wheaties box, Bedard appeared on various magazine covers and was named to the Order of Canada. She married fellow biathlete Jean Paquet in a highly publicized ceremony in Hawaii, but her life would later take a bizarre turn for the worse. Bedard divorced Paquet and was arrested in 2006 for allegedly abducting their 11-year-old daughter and bringing her to the United States, a violation of a child custody order. Bedard returned to Canada in 2007 and appealed the ruling earlier this month, arguing for an unconditional pardon that would wipe her criminal record clean.

3. George Murray, Wheelchair Racer

In 1961, 14-year-old George Murray was paralyzed in a hunting accident. Twenty-three years later, he appeared on the cover of a Wheaties box. Murray, a two-time Boston Marathon champion in the wheelchair division, was one of six athletes selected in Wheaties' first "Search for Champions" contest. A native of Maine, Murray won in Boston in 1978 and 1985 and was the first wheelchair racer to break the 4-minute mile barrier. Murray, who graduated from the University of South Florida with a physical education degree, was selected by a panel of judges from a pool of more than 6,000 entrants. The other winners in the contest were Jody Lynn Beerman (Ms. Indiana Basketball), Sammy Chagolla (Arizona high school wrestling champion), Leslie Deniz (discus thrower and Olympian), Mary T. Meagher (swimmer and three-time Olympic gold medalist), and Chris Spielman (high school linebacker). Spielman would go on to star in the NFL.

4. Peter Gagarin, Orienteer

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When Gagarin learned he was one of six winners in Wheaties' second "Search for Champions" contest, he told reporters that the honor fell "some place between mind-boggling and hokey." Gagarin was a five-time U.S. champion in orienteering, which involves using a map and compass to navigate unfamiliar terrain while competing against other teams. Gagarin hoped his appearance on boxes of Wheaties would bring some recognition to the sport, which originated as a military exercise in Scandinavia in the late 1800s. Gagarin recounts the tremendous backing he received from the orienteering community throughout the nomination process on his personal website. A panel of judges, including Hank Aaron, Walter Payton, and Peggy Fleming, selected the six winners, one of whom was a whitewater canoeist.

5. Marie Bartoletti, P.E. Teacher and Marathoner

wheaties-5In 2001, Wheaties sponsored a contest in search of an everyday champion from all 50 states, six of whom would be selected to appear on boxes of General Mills' new Wheaties Energy Crunch cereal. Bartoletti, a marathon runner, triathlete, P.E. teacher, and mother of two from Finleyville, Pa., won the contest, which required entrants to submit a 300-word essay. In addition to appearing on the front of the box "“- the five runners-up were relegated to the back -- she received $5,000 and General Mills donated $25,000 to the charity of her choice, the American Heart Association.


Some people's life goals might start and end with appearing on a Wheaties box, but not Bartoletti's. Three years after appearing on the box, she achieved her goal of participating in a marathon in all 50 states.

6. Eiji Oue, Conductor

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Just how does a conductor wind up on a box of Wheaties? Being appointed music director of the orchestra in the same city as the corporate headquarters of General Mills is a start. Oue appeared on 8,000 boxes distributed in Minneapolis, a small part of a $500,000 advertising campaign to coincide with the appointment of the little-known conductor to his new post after five years as director of the Erie (Pa.) Philharmonic. "I never used to have breakfast, but I guess I will now," Oue, a protégé of Leonard Bernstein, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Oue left the Minnesota Orchestra three years later to expand his career in Europe.

Who's Next?

Beginning in January, athletes "“- and perhaps musicians, too "“- will have another piece of real estate to strive for in the cereal aisle. Wheaties is introducing Wheaties FUEL, an offshoot of their traditional product engineered by nutritionist Dr. John Ivy in collaboration with five world-class athletes, including Peyton Manning, Albert Pujols, and Kevin Garnett. If you can't wait a few months to get your first taste, collector's edition boxes featuring the five athletes who helped engineer the product, are currently available online. As far as we can tell, no orienteers were involved in the development process.

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The Secret to the World's Most Comfortable Bed Might Be Yak Hair
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Tengi

Savoir Beds laughs at your unspooling mail-order mattresses and their promises of ultimate comfort. The UK-based company has teamed with London's Savoy Hotel to offer what they’ve declared is one of the most luxurious nights of sleep you’ll ever experience. 

What do they have that everyone else lacks? About eight pounds of Mongolian yak hair.

The elegantly-named Savoir No. 1 Khangai Limited Edition is part of the hotel’s elite Royal Suite accommodations. For $1845 a night, guests can sink into the mattress with a topper stuffed full of yak hair from Khangai, Mongolia. Hand-combed and with heat-dispensing properties, it takes 40 yaks to make one topper. In a press release, collaborator and yarn specialist Tengri claims it “transcends all levels of comfort currently available.”

Visitors opting for such deluxe amenities also have access to a hair stylist, butler, chef, and a Rolls-Royce with a driver.

Savoir Beds has entered into a fair-share partnership with the farmers, who receive an equitable wage in exchange for the fibers, which are said to be softer than cashmere. If you’d prefer to luxuriate like that every night, the purchase price for the bed is $93,000. Purchased separately, the topper is $17,400. Act soon, as only 50 of the beds will be made available each year. 

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
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Fart Gallery: A Novel History of Spencer Gifts
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Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When U.S. Army Corps bombardier Max Spencer Adler was shot down over Europe and imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II, it’s not likely he dreamed of one day becoming the czar of penis-shaped lollipops and lava lamps. But when Adler became a free man, he decided to capitalize on a booming post-war economy by doing exactly that—pursuing a career as the head of a gag gift mail-order empire that would eventually stretch across 600 retail locations and become a rite of passage for mall-trekking teens in the 1980s and 1990s.

To sneak into a Spencer Gifts store against your parents' wishes and revel in its array of tacky novelties and adult toys felt a little like getting away with something. Glowing with lasers and stuffed with Halloween masks, the layout always had something interesting within arm’s reach. But stocking the stores with such provocations sometimes carried consequences.

A row of lava lamps on display at Spencer Gifts
Dean Hochman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Returning from the war, Adler sensed a wave of relief running through the general population. Goods no longer had to be rationed, and toy factories could return to making nonessential items. The guilt of spending time or money on frivolous items was disappearing.

With his brother Harry, Adler started Spencer Gifts as a mail-order business in 1947. Their catalog, which became an immediate success, was populated with items like do-it-yourself backyard skating rinks and cotton candy makers [PDF]—items no one really needed but were inexpensive enough to indulge in. In some ways, the Spencer catalogs resembled the mail-order comic ads promising X-ray glasses and undersea fish kingdoms. Instead of kids, Adler was targeting the deeper pockets of adults.

Bolstered by that early success, Adler moved into a curious category: live animals. He had small donkeys transported from Mexico and marketed them as the new trend in domestic pets. LIFE magazine took note of the fad in 1954, observing the $85 burros, being sold at a clip of 40 a day, “except for stubbornness, are very placid.”

Burro fever foreshadowed the direction of Spencer’s in the years to come. The Adlers opened their first physical location—minus livestock—in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in 1963, expanding on their notion to peddle unique gift items like the Reduce-Eze girdle, which promised to shave inches off the wearer’s stomach. That claim caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which chastised the company for advertising the device could reduce body weight without exercise [PDF]. The FTC also took them to task for implying their jewelry contained precious metals [PDF] when the items did not.

Offending the FTC aside, Spencer’s did a brisk enough business to garner the attention of California-based entertainment company Music Corporation of America, Inc. (MCA), which purchased the brand and proceeded to expand it in the rapidly growing number of malls across the country in the 1970s and 1980s. (The mail order business closed in 1990.)

Brick and mortar retail was ideal for their inventory, which encouraged perusal, store demonstrations, and roving bands of giggling teenagers. The company wanted its stores to capture foot traffic by stuffing its aisles with items that had a look-at-this factor—a novelty that invited someone to pick it up and show it to a friend. When executives saw specific categories taking off, they “Spencerized,” or amalgamated them. When there was a resurgence of interest in Rubik’s Cubes and merchandise from the 1983 Al Pacino film Scarface, visitors were soon greeted in stores by stacks of Scarface-themed Rubik’s Cubes.

Mike Mozart via Flickr

Apart from its busy aesthetic—“like the stage from an old Poison video,” as one journalist put it—Spencer's was also known for its inventory of risqué adult novelty items. Pole-dancing kits and sex-themed card games occupied a portion of the store’s layout. The toys captured a demographic that might have been too embarrassed to visit a dedicated adult store but felt that browsing in a mall was harmless.

Sometimes, the store’s blasé attitude toward stocking such items drew critical attention. In 2010, police in Rapid City, South Dakota seized hundreds of items because Spencer's had failed to register as an “adult-oriented business,” something the city ordinance required. As far back as the 1980s, parents in various locales had complained that suggestive material was viewable by minors. In 2008, ABC news affiliate WTVD in Durham, North Carolina dispatched two teenage girls with hidden cameras to see what they would be allowed to buy. While they were shooed away from a back-of-store display, they were able to purchase “two toy rabbits that vibrate, moan, and simulate sex” as well as a penis-shaped necklace.

As a possible consequence of the internet, there are fewer incidences of parental outrage directed at Spencer’s these days. And despite the general downturn of both malls and retail shopping, the company bolsters its bottom line with the seasonal arrival of Spirit Halloween, a pop-up store specializing in costumes. Despite only being open two months out of the year, their Spirit locations contribute to roughly half of Spencer's $250 million in annual revenue.

Today, the chain’s 650 stores remain a source for impulse shopping. They still occasionally court controversy over items that appear to stereotype the Irish as drunken oafs or other inflammatory merchandise. With traditional mall locations expected to shrink by as much as 25 percent over the next five years, it’s not quite clear whether their assortment of novelties will continue to have a large retail footprint. But so long as demand exists for fake poop, fart sprays, and penis ring toss kits, Spencer’s will probably have a home.

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