A familiar scene from The Wizard of Oz depicts Dorothy and her three curious cohorts being escorted in a carriage pulled by a “horse of a different color,” the stately critter changing coloring with each view. From my five years at Henry Johnson School during the early 1950s, I recall another unusual steed that “galloped” through school bookstores all across this country.
The animal was the famous Blue Horse trademark of Atlanta’s Montag Brothers' Paper Company, a 40-year enterprise established soon after the Great Depression. The corporation quickly found its niche with the younger crowd by launching a clever awards marketing promotion to boost sluggish sales.
Our Market Street school sold the Blue Horse product line and other supplies in a small store adjacent to the principal’s office near the front door. A table was positioned across the supply room door where a school employee manned the store each morning before classes began. This allowed the attendant to dispense supplies through the door without allowing student access into the room.
I was familiar with the Blue Horse notebook loose-leaf filler packs from my previous year’s attendance in the first grade at West Side School. The paper sold for a nickel a pack and contained about 25 5-hole punched sheets, allowing it to be conveniently placed in either 2 or 3 ringed binders. Each pack was enclosed in a small wrapper with the familiar Blue Horse head icon in the middle. These trademarks were then clipped, saved and later redeemed for prizes.
Literally millions of Blue Horse heads were exchanged for cash and prizes, making Montag one of the largest paper companies in the industry by 1950. An old Montage Brothers’ wrapper from the spring of 1953 shows, “50,000 Prizes For All You Lucky Boys And Girls.” Products costing 5 cents counted as one trademark, while 10-cent items yielded two. Participants were instructed to fasten the clippings in bundles of 50 or 100 before mailing them.
Students sending in 20 Blue Horse heads received a souvenir beanie cap containing the company logo; all other prizes required a minimum of 30 heads. Youngsters did not actually choose prizes; the number of heads mailed to the company determined the relative value of the reward. Contest rules required that labels be submitted by June 15 each year, making it easier for the corporation to tabulate results, award prizes and formulate plans for the next year’s campaign.
The top prize was a Horse Head brand bicycle given to the 425 students sending in the most emblems. In addition, there were 375 table model radios, 550 footballs, 550 zipper notebook cases, 1250 surprise awards, 20,000 bonus prizes and 26,850 other prizes – totaling 50,000.
A significant advantage to this unique sales promotion was that students and schools were concurrently rewarded. Cash was offered to the 167 schools whose students sent in the most trademarks. Prize money included $100 for first, $50 for second, $40 for third, $25 for fourth, and $5 for fifth. The total money dispersed nationwide by the company was $2025.
About 1970, the Montag Brothers’ once-famed azure four-legged creature was escorted on a one-way trip to a glue factory. Today, the only trace of the hoofed animal is a large Atlanta building still referred to as … The Blue Horse.