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The Original Milk Carton Kids: Johnny Gosch and Eugene Martin

liz west
Though milk cartons only briefly held the images of them, milk is still associated with missing children.

Before automatic text messages and digital highway signs, there was a simpler way to spread the word about an abducted child -- the milk carton. And the first faces to show up on them? Iowans Johnny Gosch and Eugene Martin.

"Immediately as this issue is gaining steam, folks in the private sector are responding and demonstrating their commitment to the safety of children. This is seen as a very easy way to show that company's are family-friendly and interested in the well-being of families and American children," says Paul Morkzycki, a history Ph.D candidate at the University of Iowa.

Morkzycki wrote his dissertation on the politics and policies around child abduction in the Reagan Era. He says that while other consumer items bore the faces of abducted children, the milk carton gained a certain cultural cache and exploded in popularity.

"There's really no evidence to suggest that it was very effective. [...] It had a lot to do with the symbolic resonance of milk cartons -- the fact that it's a Midwestern program, the fact that milk is so deeply linked to the Midwest, and the familial significance of the milk carton."

During this River to River interview, host Ben Kieffer talks with Morkzycki about Midwestern response to child abductions. Later in the program, Michael Motsinger, special agent in charge of Child Abduction Response Team for the Division of Criminal Investigation at the Iowa Department of Public Safety, joins the conversation.

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River