The science fiction adventure series, Space Patrol, was a television phenomenon that ran from March 1950 to February 1955. It began as a local daily 15-minute live TV show aimed at children on KECA – an ABC network affiliate in Los Angeles. In December of 1950, ABC picked up the show for its Saturday lineup and made television history by being the first network to broadcast a live program coast-to-coast. The 30-minute Saturday Space Patrol series became so popular with both children and adults that the 15-minute daily was shown in other cities via kinescoped film prints. A weekly radio program was added to the franchise as well as a comic book series. A cottage industry grew with all kinds of Space Patrol merchandise – a 1952 LIFE article estimated sales of $40 million on 80 items, ranging from space helmets to ray guns, viewscopes, spacephones, puzzles and clothes.*
To this day one of the most talked about memories of the show is the ‘contest to end all contests’. The challenge – ‘NAME THAT PLANET.’
This…contest asked viewers to submit a name for the gigantic Planet X — kingdom of the evil Price Baccarrati — that figured in the series’ storyline during the summer of 1953. The grand prize was [a] forty-foot long rocket clubhouse replica of Commander Buzz Corry’s battlecruiser, the Terra IV (and a sem-truck to pull it!) plus an thousand additional bicycles and Space Patrol toys. Ten year-old Ricky Walker of Washington, Illinois submitted the winning name – Cesaria – and took receipt of the fabulous first prize on January 14, 1954. – captainbijou.com
The rocket clubhouse was one of the two ‘rolling’ Ralston Rockets which toured the country as an attraction at public events and gatherings promoting Ralston products and the show – the company was one of Space Patrol‘s leading sponsors. Below is a video compilation of the contest hype.
For a short time, Ricky Walker was the most envied kid in the U.S. – it was a huge day in Washington, Illinois when the rocket arrived:
Eventually the novelty wore off and Ricky’s parents sold the rocket playhouse to a traveling carnival for the sum of $1000. The Ralston Rocket faded into obscurity but lived on in the memories of the viewers as one of the most – if not THE most – amazing prizes in television history. Sadly, the end of the road for the rocket was far less glamorous. In 1985 it was discovered on the property of a small construction company in Gent, New York. No longer the glistening star of 1954, the Ralston Rocket Clubhouse was now rusted and neglected. Area resident Rick DeMeis took the following photographs which he later presented to Solar Guard for posting on their Ralston Rocket page. A short time after these photos were taken, the construction company had it unceremoniously destroyed and sold for scrap.
Thus came the unhappy conclusion to a national sensation.