Vintage TV: How many licks does it take?

If your childhood happened anytime after 1970, you almost certainly have seen the famous commercial for Tootsie Pops in which a small boy quests to learn how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center. He first checks with Mr. Turtle, who refers him to wise old Mr. Owl, who seizes the pop, takes three licks, and bites. The world will never know.

Naturally, some have tried to find the answer. Engineering students at Purdue University developed a licking machine that took an average of 364 licks to reach the center. Unfortunately, students licking the old-fashioned way needed only 252 licks on average, casting doubts that a single answer can ever be reached.

But back to the commercial. In 1970, it wasn’t uncommon for commercials to last a full minute. But those were the waning days for longer commercials, and shortly the 60-second version had been whittled down to 30 seconds. If you see this spot on TV today, it’s likely to be a 15-second version. But the original 60-second version featured two additional characters, long forgotten: Mr. Cow and Mr. Fox.

And with that, Cow and Fox have been restored to their former, deserved glory.


18 responses to “Vintage TV: How many licks does it take?”

  1. Jim's Brother Avatar
    Jim’s Brother

    AWESOME find. Love that old ad!

    1. Jim Avatar

      It was very cool to stumble upon it on YouTube.

  2. Todd Pack Avatar

    I never made it without biting. Ask Mr. Owl.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I never would have guessed that an owl’s beak would be sufficient to crack a Tootsie Pop.

  3. ryoko861 Avatar

    I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that version! That’s pretty cool! The cartoon seems so primitive now. That was great! I only like cherry tootsie pops!

    1. Jim Avatar

      They did a CGI update on this commercial not long ago and it absolutely lacks any charm.

  4. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    So, um, this licking machine… is that commercially available yet? :)

    Seriously, though… someone at a university devised a licking machine to determine the answer to this question? What a misuse of scientific resources! We could have had bionics by now!

    Speaking purely for myself, I never liked Tootsie Rolls (or the centre of the Pops, either). They tasted like old, dessicated molasses, and about as much like chocolate as a bar of Ivory Soap.

    1. Jim Avatar

      My childhood memory of Tootsie Rolls and their brethren is that they were so hard to chew that no joy could be derived from them. Latter-day Tootsie Rolls seem to be much softer. Did they change, or were the ones from my youth always very stale?

      1. Lone Primate Avatar
        Lone Primate

        Several thousand civil suits for lost fillings probably convinced the Tootsie Roll folks to tone down the tar-like properties of their confection. :)

  5. Rob Slaven Avatar

    oh my that is totally awesome. Do we have any clue who the actors were who did the voices? I know the cow is someone famous. Are they all? They all sound more than a bit familiar.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’m glad you asked that! Mr. Cow was Frank Nelson. Mr. Fox was Paul Frees. Mr. Turtle was Ralph James. And Mr. Owl was Paul Winchell.

      1. Lone Primate Avatar
        Lone Primate

        Is Paul any relation to the Walter of “Mr. & Mrs.America and all the ships at sea” fame?

        1. Jim Avatar


  6. zorgor Avatar

    Wow, yeah that takes me back! Awesome! You know, I usually do lick all the way to the tootsie roll, but I never counted. One of the best things I’ve discovered lately in life, is that when coffee stops working on a long road trip, tootsie roll pops will keep you wide awake! And at only 60 calories a pop! (pun intended)

    1. Jim Avatar

      You, sir, are a patient man to suck all the way to the Tootsie Roll center.

      Truth be told, I’ve never been crazy about Tootsie Pops! But next time I’m drowsing at the wheel, I’ll think about what you said.

  7. Walter Czyz Avatar
    Walter Czyz

    Thank you for sharing! This is the one I remember from my childhood… Our kids and I have the matching Mr. Owl t-shirts. I’m sure we’d get a lot of comments if the t-shirts had the other animals….

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have a Mr Owl shirt too!

  8. V.E.G. Avatar

    Number of licks: More you can think!

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