The Secret Life of Choo-Choo Charlie
So how does a humble 19th century candy become the nation’s oldest brand? The answer comes down to two American icons. One is Choo-Choo Charlie, the cartoon engineer whose train pulls dining cars, as he proclaims Good & Plenty “Really rings my bell” in television ads. The other is the real life engineer Casey Jones.
Jonathan Luther “Casey” Jones (March 14, 1863 – April 30, 1900), born in a racially charged nation at the time of the Civil War, reveals the best of America. Jones and Sim Webb, his African American friend and railroad fireman, were operating a passenger train in 1900. The train collided with a stopped freight car. Apparently Casey Jones made a heroic effort to save the train and everyone on board. Casey perished in the crash although everyone else survived.
Good & Plenty entered this world around that time – in 1893 – a product of the family owned Quaker City Confectionery Company of Philadelphia. The sweet may have gone the way of thousands of industrial-revolution era candies were it not for family member Lester Rosskam. In 1946, after serving as a counter-intelligence officer in World War II, Rosskam joined his family’s business. He realized the power of TV marketing and helped launch the Choo-Choo Charlie advertising campaign in 1950, based on a real life college football player he knew.
But Charlie’s true steam comes from the Good n’ Plenty jingle. It was based on the Ballad of Casey Jones, written by railroad wiper Wallace Saunders shortly after Jones’ death to the tune of a popular song, “Jimmie Jones.” The 1950 version was created by advertising executive and copywriter Russ Alben, of Ogilvy and Mather, whose other brainchildren include the Timex tagline “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
The lyric has plenty of memorable repetition, a steady rhythm punctuated by the sound of Good & Plenty irresistibly sliding in a box, and the wholesome image of Charlie the engineer, that every kid would love and every parent, trust.
But behind every good ad is an even better archetype. The Casey-Charley connection represented American ingenuity and integrity during the Cold War and the upheavals of Vietnam. It reminded us however subtly that our humble world is full with heroes, even heroes we don’t completely know or understand. Just as important: the ad, much like candy, is ultimately and unflinchingly, about fun. And we can always use a taste of that.Tags: advertising, candy, Casey Jones, Good & Plenty, licorice, old time candy, railroads