Rio Grande Criminal Hunt - The Very First Collect-And-Win Gas Station Game

Rio Grande Criminal Hunt

RIO GRANDE CRIMINAL HUNT was a promotional game issued by the Rio Grande Oil Company in 1937. This was a collect-and-win game with multiple prizes. With each visit to a participating Rio Grande gas station, customers received a game piece with a hidden symbol. The goal was to collect game pieces that matched the images on the game card. When all matching game pieces were collected, the player could turn them in and select one of the prizes available in the game.

Criminal Hunt was the first collect-and-win game, issued by an oil company, that I am aware of 1. The design of this game was excellent and it was duplicated with great success in the 1960s. However, I do not know of any other collect-and-win games issued between 1937 and 1963. This indicates that either the game format was not well-received at the time, was too expensive to execute, or did not generate enough increased revenue to warrant more similar games.

From a marketing perspective the game was brilliant. It tied into two Rio Grande promotional efforts - a radio show for which Rio Grande Oil was the exclusive sponsor, and an entertaining publication given away at Rio Grande gas stations. The radio show was called 'Calling All Cars' which was a 30-minute show broadcast on CBS from 1933 to 1939. This was a fantasy cops-and-robbers radio show. The publication 'Calling All Cars News' elaborated on the radio show episodes and, during the radio show, listeners were encouraged to visit a Rio Grande gas station to pick up a free copy.

The game pieces (called 'clue cards') have hidden images printed on pieces of card stock (about 2" x 1.5"). To reveal the image on the game piece, it is necessary to smear a couple drops of printing ink on the paper. The game pieces were to be matched to images on a Criminal Hunt game card (about 9" x 7"). When all matching clue cards were collected, they could be redeemed for a prize.

The game card below is 'Identification Card No. 1" which indicates more than one game card was issued. One of the game pieces below apparently belongs to a different game card.

Identification Card No. 1 shows five prizes available in the game and they are all children's toys. There were 6,000 prizes available which is a very small amount by today's standards.


Rio Grande Criminal Hunt

Above is the front of a Rio Grande Criminal Hunt game card with six 'clue card' images.


Rio Grande Criminal Hunt

Above is the back of a Rio Grande Criminal Hunt game card.


Rio Grande Criminal Hunt

Above are six game pieces with ink smeared on them to reveal the hidden symbol.


Rio Grande Criminal Hunt


1 If you are aware of any collect-and-win games issued by oil companies prior to 1937, please contact me at the following email address: travelbug, followed by the @ sign, followed by: billjamie.com. Thanks!

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