Wrigley and his Gum Starting Out
Although he started his company on April 1st, 1891, Wrigley was no fool. William Wrigley, Jr.was born in Philadelphia in 1861. At the early age of 13, he became a traveling salesman for his father’s “Wrigley’s Mineral Scouring Soap” company.
Seventeen years later at age 29, he moved to Chicago and started his own business as a manufacturer’s representative for baking powder. William had a knack for marketing and knew that people would be more inclined to purchase a product if it came with a free “premium” item.
So in 1892, William started packaging sticks of Zeno Chewing Gum with each can of baking soda. Over the next year, Zeno’s gum became increasingly more popular and soon William caught on that the customers were more interested in the gum than the baking soda.
So William stopped selling the baking soda and made an important agreement with Zeno. He and Zeno signed a contract stipulating that Zeno would manufacture gum solely for William Wrigley. William was now able to concentrate all his efforts into selling the gum.
Wrigley and his Gum Evolve
His first business move as a gum sales rep was to introduce 3 new brands of gum. The 1st was called Vassar Gum because it was targeted for “classy” college women, the 2nd was called Lotta Gum because it was targeted for men and children who want “a lot more”, and the 3rd was called Sweet 16 Gum.
The primary ingredient in the gum was the chicle substance made from the white gummy sap that comes from rubberwood-like Sapodilla trees found in Guatemala. Wanting to recruit more customers over his competitors, in 1893 Williams decided to add flavors to the chicle and he introduced a fourth and fifth brand.
The fourth brand was Juicy Fruit® containing fruit extracts. The fifth brand was Spearmint® Pepsin containing mint from a spearmint plant. Two major things occurred from 1894 to 1907 which caused William’s life as a gum salesman to change forever.
Wrigley and his Gum With Vending Machines
The first thing Wrigley and his gum were affected by was the $284,000 William spent on advertising Spearmint Gum. The second thing Wrigley and his Gum were affected by was that Zeno started distributing the gum through 1¢ vending machines.
Zeno vending machines looked liked fancy oak wood cabinets measuring about 7.5″L x 8.5″ W x 16″ H. On the front it said, “Drop one cent in the slot and get Zeno Chewing Gum” because when a customer inserted a penny into the slot, it would drop down through a chute which would activate a clockwork motor inside that would in-turn push out a stick of gum that landed on a metal tray.
The vending machines were placed in public areas such as drug stores, barbershops, pubs, on railway platforms, and in factory/plant break-rooms to provide workers with a refreshment. Also, the vending machine was included for free for anyone who purchased 1,200 sticks of gum (so factory owners were making a profit using the vending machines).
These vending machines were a new novelty and everyone wanting to use them to get a delicious piece of gum quickly became a trend. When 1910 rolled around, the vending machine trend, in conjunction with the money William spent on advertising, made Spearmint® the best-selling chewing gum brand in America. Wrigley and his Gum were still #1.
Wrigley and his Gum are Finally One
By 1911, William gained full control over the chewing gum by acquiring Zeno Manufacturing and consolidated it with his company, the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company. At last, William was now both the manufacturer and the marketer for “Wrigley’s Gum”. People began referring to him as “the father of gum”.
After Wrigley and his Gum conquered the market in America, Wrigley set out to expand his empire by starting distribution in other countries. Phase 1 of the international distribution was selling the gum in Canada, Australia, and England. Phase 2 occurred after he had his advertisements translated into 30 different languages whereby he distributed the gum to the rest of the world.
In 1914 he debuted his sixth brand, Doublemint®, which quickly took over as the most popular brand of gum in America. Shortly thereafter, he carried out a grandiose marketing campaign whereby he mailed four sticks of gum to everyone listed in the phonebook (a tactic which he repeated 4 years later).
Five years later, Wrigley implemented some changes with the vending machines: 1) he improved the mechanics of the vending machines so that the gum would be dispensed simply by placing a penny in the coin slot, instead of having to push a plunger or lever to get the gum out; 2) the oak framework was replaced by steel; and 3) he increased the price from a penny to a nickel.
All the profits from those 5¢ gum purchases made William Wrigley, Jr. one of the richest men in America. What was a wealthy man, who loved baseball, going to do with all that money? Well, since he was a big fan of the Chicago Cubs, in 1916 he purchased shares of Cubs stock, then in 1921, he bought a controlling interest in the team.
Also in 1921, Wrigley acquired a team in California, the Los Angeles Angels. At that time, the Angels were a farm team of the Chicago Cubs who played at Washington Park. In 1925 he built the Angeles a new baseball field in South Los Angeles which they named “Wrigley Field” in his honor. Liking that name, in 1926 he renamed the Chicago Cubs ballpark also “Wrigley Field”.
Wrigley and his Gum Support U.S. Troops
Despite having a profitable business, because of wartime rationing during World War II (approx. 1944), Wrigley wasn’t able to make enough top-quality gum for everyone. So, rather than compromise the quality of the gum, Wrigley temporarily took his gum off of the civilian market.
He did so so that he could instead dedicate the entire distribution of the Spearmint®, Doublemint®, and Juicy Fruit® brands to the United States Armed Forces in support of the troops. But after the war, it was business as usual and Wigley’s Gum continued its success as one of the largest chewing gum manufacturers worldwide.
Wrigley and his Gum Memorabilia
A wonderful piece of memorabilia commemorating the history of Wrigley and his Gum is one of the original Wrigley’s Gum Vending Machines that we carry in our store. It makes a perfect gift for collectors. Check it out.
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