Many kids looked hopefully into the Inland Empire skies early in 1929, searching for the ultimate sweet reward.
Manufacturers of the candy bar Baby Ruth announced their specially decorated biplane would fling out hundreds of candy bars and chewing gum to groups of kids in cities from Riverside to Pasadena and beyond.
One writer called it the Baby Ruth Flying Circus, a massive publicity stunt over six years promoting Curtiss Candy Co. products. Touring through cities all over the country, Curtiss would announce the time and day for its scheduled candy drop and encourage kids to gather in open areas, each hopeful of collecting their own “manna from heaven.”
During the end of February and much of March 1929, the Curtiss candy plane dropped its products to kids from the Inland Empire to Whittier, Pasadena, San Pedro, Ventura and Escondido.
“Pomona Will Witness the Greatest Candy and Gum Party Ever Held in the State!” were the words in a Curtiss advertisement in the Pomona Progress-Bulletin on Feb. 25. Of course, that exaggerated wording was also pronounced in newspaper ads in other cities.
Hyperbole meant nothing for a kid as long as he happened to be where they could be showered with free sweets.
“There were kids everywhere in a big open field … we had big fields everywhere then,” recalled Eugene Piester in a 2010 oral history about how he and his brother walked from Norco to Corona for the Feb. 28 candy drop.
The kids impatiently searched for the first signs of the biplane flown by World War I aviator Dallas M. Speer that left the Norconian Air Field for the Corona “bombing run.”
“Finally we heard it first, then it circled and then came in low and parachutes started falling. I don’t think they worked too well, but it was a lot of fun scrambling to get the candy.”
Piester said the candy drop was augmented by the arrival of a Curtiss truck that provided even more of the goodies. “We just stuffed our pockets because they were free. I don’t think any of them made it home: I mean that was a long walk and kids get hungry.”
In Riverside three days later, kids were promised candy would be dropped as well as free tickets to a matinee at the Riverside Theater. But sometimes a little patience was needed.
One young girl on Grand Avenue called the Riverside Daily Press to complain the plane never came to her neighborhood on March 2. “She was further about to declare herself when she cut-off shouting, ‘Here he comes, here he comes.’ ” After the receiver slammed to the ground, it was followed by the sound of tiny feet rushing off to the distance, according to the Press article that day.
The California candy drops were apparently the last for the Baby Ruth Flying Circus, the program likely doomed that year by the arrival of the Great Depression.
One historic twist of the publicity stunts involved Paul Tibbets, who as a 9-year-old in Florida wrangled a free ride on the Baby Ruth plane. He was so taken by that experience that he decided aviation was something he would pursue as he got older. Tibbets later become an historic figure as commander of the U.S. bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.
Thanks to historian and Norco Councilman Kevin Bash for sharing pictures and local stories of the Baby Ruth Flying Circus.
In another aircraft tale, Army Air Corps pilot Lt. Joe Dawson was on a routine flight to March Field in Riverside from the Bay Area in 1933 when he noticed pilot Ross Peacock frantically gesturing to him from another plane.
Peacock pointed to the underside of Dawson’s plane just before the Army pilot landed to refuel in Bakersfield on Feb. 1.
And that’s when he discovered 500 feet of rope cable had been snagged on the bottom of the plane during takeoff at Crissy Field in San Francisco. Peacock, a private pilot, was sent up to alert him when he arrived, the Bakersfield Californian reported that afternoon.
Dawson’s P-12 Army pursuit plane carried no radio. The belief on the ground was the plane would crash if it tried to land with all that cable dragging behind.
Faced with limited options, Dawson boldly decided to dip his plane near the ground, dragging the cable across telephone wires between poles. This rather desperate, and hazardous, strategy worked perfectly as the cable was pulled away from the plane. Just after Dawson landed in Bakersfield, another Army plane arrived from San Francisco carrying a sign: “500 feet of tow line on your tail skid, danger, Joe,” a warning which fortunately was not needed.
Dawson then went on to Riverside without incident. Interestingly, there was no mention about any loss of telephone service in Bakersfield that day.
When Teddy arrived
The Riverside Historical Society on Dec. 4 will host a presentation by Glenn Wenzel of his book, “When Teddy Came to Town,” the story of the 1903 visit of President Theodore Roosevelt to Riverside.
The 1 p.m. talk will detail the time Roosevelt spent at the Mission Inn and planting of two trees. It will also discuss several Spanish American War relics at the historic hotel.
It will be the society’s annual meeting and election of directors. It will be held in the downstairs conference room of the Riverside Medical Center, 7117 Brockton Ave., Riverside.
Joe Blackstock writes on Inland Empire history. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @JoeBlackstock. Check out some of our columns of the past at Inland Empire Stories on Facebook at www.facebook.com/IEHistory