Boomers Grew Up With the Hess Truck

The tradition of the annual Hess toy truck at Christmas is a ubiquitous promotion on TV these days, but its origin occurred in the boomer heydays. Hess started as a home heating oil delivery service in 1933, but has morphed into a worldwide crude oil and natural gas exploration and production company currently owned by Chevron.

For boomer children in certain states, the story begins in 1960 when Hess opened its first gas station in New Jersey. By 1964, Hess gas stations formed a regional chain spanning several eastern and midwestern states. That was the first year Hess offered a toy truck, and the tradition began. The original toy was a tanker that kids could fill with water. Through a hose attached to the tank, the water could be emptied — delivered — where the child wanted. The truck was sold exclusively at Hess gas stations. It was meant to be a replica of the type of tankers that Hess used to deliver fuel.

Eventually, the gas stations could be found in most states east of the Mississippi. The annual sale of a toy truck continued for 16 more years, with each year offering a different style of vehicle. Hess released a new truck each year, except for 1973, 1979 and 1981, when the Middle East oil embargoes interrupted the new truck releases. Up until 1979, the annual toy sale was only advertised in local newspapers and at Hess gas stations, but then the first TV commercial aired in 1980 (according to the company; others on YouTube claim to have uncovered TV commercials from the late 1970s). That is where the story gets interesting for boomers.

The Hess TV commercial from 1980 used a rock instrumental version of Deck the Halls. That soundtrack appears to have been used in Hess truck commercials throughout the 1980s, but Mister Boomer was able to discover a 1989 TV commercial that used an extended version of the jingle we hear on Hess truck commercials today. The distinctive TV commercial jingle intoning, The Hess truck’s back and it’s better than ever… is immediately identifiable by boomers. The song melody that became the basis for the commercial jingle is none other than My Boyfriend’s Back, made popular by The Angels in 1963! Hess has continued to use the jingle, including this year.

In 2014, Hess sold its gas station business to Marathon Petroleum. As a result, Hess stations were closed in 2015. However, the toy continues to be sold online at the Hess truck website. Boomers, who may have received a Hess truck when they were children, may have also continued the tradition with their children and grandchildren. Those longtime buyers will be happy to know that Hess continues to supply the batteries for the toys, the same as it has since 1964.

How about you, boomers? Did you ever receive a Hess truck as a gift? Did you ever purchase one for your own children or grandchildren?

Boomers Watched The Ed Sullivan Show

There are many TV shows that can be described as “quintessential boomer,” but when it comes to variety shows, there is only one: The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-1971). This week marked the 75th anniversary of the broadcasting of the first episode.

It is pretty safe to say the vast majority of boomers from coast to coast remember, as kids, tuning in to The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights. Even if their families weren’t weekly viewers, there were probably certain weeks that boomers insisted the family watch, such as the first live appearance on U.S. television of The Beatles on February 9, 1964.

Ed Sullivan was far from the expected TV host, both in appearance and voice. Some suggest his everyman demeanor helped to make him popular. Regardless, no one could argue that he presented a truly eclectic variety of acts, from Broadway and opera stars to future rock icons; puppet acts to comedians, sports stars and more.

Here are some interesting facts about The Ed Sullivan Show during the boomer years:

• The show premiered as The Toast of the Town in 1948; it was renamed The Ed Sullivan Show in 1955. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were one of the show’s first acts.
• Elvis made his first Ed Sullivan appearance on September 9, 1956, but Ed was not the host. While Ed recovered from a car crash, Charles Laughton filled in for one episode. 60 million viewers tuned in. Sullivan had booked Elvis for three appearances. After the second appearance, protests emerged across the country against rock & roll because of Elvis’ swiveling hips. CBS censored his dancing in his third appearance and showed him only from the waist up.
• At a time when black entertainers were not welcome on many TV shows, Ed Sullivan welcomed black artists to perform on his show from the start. His support of Nat King Cole helped the singer to land his own network TV variety show in 1956, the first African-American to do so. Cole appeared 13 times on The Ed Sullivan Show. The list of black entertainers appearing on Ed Sullivan reads like a who’s who of popular music from the boomer years, including: Pearl Bailey, Louis Armstrong, BB King, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, Ella Fitzgerald, Sam Cooke, Sammy Davis, Jr., the Four Tops, The Temptations, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The 5th Dimension, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Ike and Tina Turner, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Jackie Wilson, James Brown, and Marvin Gaye.
• Boomers were the rock & roll generation, and Ed Sullivan presented top acts like Bill Haley & His Comets, Buddy Holly, the Dave Clark Five, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Simon and Garfunkel, The Righteous Brothers, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, and many more.

• Señor Wences, the ventriloquist with his hand puppet, first appeared in 1950. The Italian mouse puppet Topo Gigio appeared later, in December of 1962.

By all accounts, the man himself had an ill temper and a prickly personality. He banned several acts from appearing again on his show because they did not do what he asked. One of the more famous run-ins was with Bo Diddley, who changed his song choice shortly before the live broadcast began. Diddly felt his choice would coincide with what his fans wanted to hear, but Sullivan and his producers saw that the song was longer than the original one planned and it would would force them to cancel two acts following Diddley’s performance due to time constraints. As a result, Sullivan never booked Diddley again.

Whether people liked the show and hated him, or vice versa, he was a top influencer in the early days of television, for boomers and beyond.

What memories do you have of watching The Ed Sullivan Show, boomers? Did you watch The Beatles perform?