History

Everybody needs milk.”

The Minneapolis Aquatennial Milk Carton Boat Races began in 1971 when advertising agency Campbell Mithun, Inc. wanted to increase sales for the Milk Foundation of the Twin Cities, a milk distributor.  

One of those “thinking outside the box” brainstorming sessions was held earlier in 1971, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, to build a campaign to increase milk drinking by teenagers.  Somebody mentioned an empty half-gallon milk carton was an air chamber that can support four pounds, the Aquatennial was called, and history was made.

“Publicity Stunt Snowballs Into Wild Event,” rages the headline in the Pioneer Press, July 25, 1971. The article, by Linda Kohl, says the following of the boat race:  “It could be the most spectacular nautical event since the sinking of the Titanic, and at the very least may someday be hailed as one of the great advertising coups of the decade.”

1971 flyer promoting the new event; also used in newspaper ads
(Flyer courtesy Donna Seline)

For years, it was thought the races began in 1970.  In 1995, it was the 25th anniversary.  In 2000, the race trophies even said it was the 30th anniversary!  In the construction of this Web site, however, 1971 race participant Donna Seline said she was sure the ’71 race was the first.  She supplied the flyer below, with the date of Sunday, July 25, (with no year stated).  I checked a calendar and low and behold, July 25 did not fall on a Sunday in 1970, but it did in 1971!  Plus newspapers were filled with pictures of the races in 1971, but nothing in 1970. 

Then there is the old “anniversary” vs. “race” dilemma.  In 2001, it was the 30th anniversary, but not the 30th race, it was the 31st race.  For it to be an anniversary, a year has to be completed.  In 2002, it will be the 31st anniversary, and the 32nd race.  We went through this kind of thing on Dec. 31, 1999, remember?