This is the cyber home of the late Willie the KOOL penguin.
Years (indeed, decades) before "Joe Camel" became a controversial cartoon representative of the tobacco industry, "Willie" was a widely known symbol and spokes-penguin for KOOL cigarettes.
During a 31-year period bracketing the Second World War, Willie appeared in magazine ads, television commercials, and even as a little imprint on the cigarettes themselves. His image was also seen in a wide variety of merchandising spin-offs, including three-dimensional figurines, the best known of which are the "Willie" and "Millie" salt and pepper shakers.
This site is divided into several sections devoted to the the fabulous KOOL penguin, his history, collectibles, and media campaigns, as well as the whole controversy of using cartoon characters to pitch the evil weed.
While the primary purpose of this page is to showcase Willie the KOOL penguin collectibles, the origin and history of our little friend is of interest as well. A good bit of research remains to be done, but it is safe to say that the KOOL penguin's longevity far exceeded that of the more infamous "Joe-come-lately." For those with an interest in Willie's origin and transformation over the years, I have provided a KOOL Penguin History page for your perusal. You'll find lots of nice images there too.
Sojourners at flea markets and antique shops regularly encounter the little plastic "Willie" and "Millie" salt and pepper shakers -- although perhaps not in rookery numbers. They are by far the most common KOOL penguin collectibles. However, there are a great many others, more than you would ever imagine. The careful flea market shopper will also find "Willie" in other configurations, including cigarette lighters, counter-top displays, and posters, even an electric clock. I invite you to visit the separate collectibles page for as complete a survey of these charming items as you are likely to find anywhere on Earth.
There were several KOOL penguin posters, both large and small. The example shown here is on stiff cardboard and is of the size that might have been displayed on a bus or subway car. Willie posters can also be found on slick paper as well as in billboard size. See the separate collectibles page for examples.
THE TIN SIGNS
There were also a number of tin signs, large and small, and in different configurations. Some of them have holes in the four corners through which nails or screws could be used to affix them to a flat surface or door jam. The one shown here measures 12" by 3½". See the separate collectibles page for other examples.
Magazine advertising featuring the KOOL penguin began appearing in the early '30s and continued at least until the late '50s. The picture at left, from a 1935 magazine, depicts everyone's favorite outdoor activity--surfing and smoking. By 1956, Willie had become more "cartoonish" and KOOL cigarettes had acquired a filter.
Willie the penguin was also featured in large in-store displays. Seen here is a really nice one in the Paradise Pharmacy (Texas?), as it appeared circa the mid-1950s.
One of the most interesting advertising areas was the flip side of the cigarette pack, itself. There, under the heading "Willie the Penguin Says," our feathered friend waxes poetic, dispensing such advice as: "Even if you cough like crazy, KOOLS still taste fresh as a daisy."
Here are a few examples of penguin poetic prowess. There were many, many of these odd little poems. You may go to the separate poetry page for additional examples.
Now, if you want to talk about blatant advertising designed to introduce young children to the evils of the weed, consider this. During the period April 1951 to April 1952, Standard Publications, had the distinction of publishing a comic book featuring our guy Willie.
Not to be confused with "Chilly Willy," the Brown and Williamson tobacco company actually held the copyright to this comic character. For more on this byway, you may visit the separate Willie the Penguin comic book page.
The recent flap over "Joe Camel" may have the secondary effect of spurring new interest in our guy "Willie." Indeed, in 1991, Brown and Williamson (U.S. subsidiary of transnational giant BAT Industries) tested an ad campaign based on a modernized version of the old KOOL penguin. The "new" penguin has buzz-cut hair, day-glo sneakers, sunglasses, and is very conscious of being "cool." Brown and Williamson's announcement of the test campaign was written in the voice of the penguin, who explains:
My older cousin, Willie the Penguin, represented Kool for three decades. Let's face it, he's gotten on in years. That, and the fact that I'm unique, colorful, good-looking - and very modest.
The complete article from which I gleaned this information (together with a larger picture of the tough little guy) may be found on the "New Kool Penguin" page. Does anyone out there know more about this? Who can send me additional pictures or examples of any associated merchandise?
We find another image of the new KOOL penguin in an editorial cartoon, by Gary Brookins of the Richmond Times Dispatch, depicting the poor little guy as having joined the ranks of the unemployed. It is my understanding that the new KOOL penguin campaign was test marketed in the Richmond area, so it makes sense that the local paper would be aware of it.
If you are a retired employee of Brown and Williamson or the Batten, Barton, Durstine, and Osborn advertising agency (or anyone else for that matter), and have information or memorabilia relating to the KOOL penguin ad campaign, please contact me. Your assistance in my research will be greatly appreciated. I am particularly looking for old issues of the B&W employee magazine entitled "The Penguin."
I am always interested in buying or trading for those KOOL penguin items that are not already securely nestled under my wing. Indeed, I invite you to visit my special wanted and for trade page.
And if you leave this page without looking at the separate collectibles page you will miss the bulk of the information and images included at this site.
I am often asked "Where can I buy a set of Willie and Millie shakers?" or some other KOOL collectible. The answer is -- the eBay auctions! Click the eBay icon and become a registered member today. Yes, it's free, but please don't bid against "Otto." Hey folks, that's me!
Few among you is more averse to smoking than I. Still, it is possible to be enchanted by Willie the Penguin despite the menace of his message. Such is the power of advertising.
Please feel free to e-mail me with your comments.
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This page created and maintained by Jim Lowe
First appearance: May 18, 1997
Last updated: June 5, 2002
© 1997 to 2002 by James R. Lowe, who reserves all rights to the content of this page not successfully claimed by others. "Willie" and "Millie" the KOOL penguins might be copyright characters (if they ever were, and it hasn't expired) of Brown and Williamson. In any case, their appearance on this page is in the context of a review or critical commentary and is within the "fair use" provisions of the copyright act.