Excitement Over Elvis Dog Tags Built in June 1958
When Elvis entered the army in March 1958, the flood of Elvis merchandise on the market began to subside. Some enterprising entrepreneurs, however, were still able to capitalize on Presley's popularity. Two such men were deejay Norman Prescott and Leo Egan, who contracted with Bellavance Jewelry in Boston to manufacture "Elvis Presley dog tags."
The tags, which came in silver and gold versions, featured Elvis's U.S. Army serial number, blood type (O), a facsimile signature, and an etched picture of Elvis. According to a June 16, 1958, article in Billboard, the plan was to sell the tags, priced at $1, at department stores, theaters, drugstores, and record stores beginning on July 7 to coincide with the opening of Elvis's new movie, King Creole.
It was in June, however, a month before their release, that anticipation among Presley fans for the dog tags began to build. Prescott and Egan reported they had shipped 1,500,000 tags by mid-June, and they were prepared to produce an additional 500,000 tags per week if needed. Meanwhile, disc jockets around the country were offering their listeners the opportunity to win the promotional Elvis dog tags they had received.
In Shreveport, Louisiana, KJOE deejay Vern Steirman convinced his station manager to fly the station's single engine airplane over the city the afternoon of June 10 so that Stierman could drop 50 Presley dog tags from the air. According to Billoard's June Bundy, it was a merchandising gimmick to promote the release of the new Three-teens record, "Dear 53310761" (Elvis's army serial number). People finding the tags were directed to take them to Stan's Record Shop, where they would receive free copies of the new Elvis tribute record.
In Boston, Arnie Ginsberg of station WBOS had another angle. He offered six advance samples of the Presley dog tags to the first three boys who came to his station with guitars and the first three girls who appeared wearing bathing suits. According to a June 23, 1958, article in Billboard, "On a rainy, cold night, a crowd of more than 600 gathered outside the studio, necessitating three police patrol cars to keep order. There were 22 boys with guitars, and 16 girls in bathing suits." Although the tags were not due to go on sale for a couple of weeks, interest in the jewelry was said to be at "fever height" in Boston.