Home Money William Wrigley Jr. Review: The Father of Chewing Gum

William Wrigley Jr. Review: The Father of Chewing Gum

William Wigley Jr
Editorial Credit: Library of Congress

William Wrigley Jr, a Great American Entrepreneur

William Wrigley (1861 to 1932) is known as the father of chewing gum. He brought it to the world by transforming a small soap-selling business into the leading global chewing gum manufacturer.

William Wrigley Jr. was born on September 30, 1861 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to William and Mary A. Ladley, second-generation Americans. The Wrigley lineage stretches back to Saddleworth, a manufacturing town to the north of Yorkshire in the UK.

Edmund Wrigley, William’s grandfather, was a woolen manufacturer, and his father went on to find great success making soap. By 1870, William Sr. had founded the Wrigley Manufacturing Company. He served as the president of the company. The company’s core product was Wrigley’s Scouring Soap.

William Wrigley Checking Gum

The young William Wrigley keenly immersed himself in his father’s budding soap business. The company started trading at the same time as people began viewing soap as a product worth buying.

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Within a year of the company opening, William Wrigley, Jr. was selling soap from a basket on the Philadelphia streets. Consumed by the sales bug, Wrigley ran off to New York with a friend the following year. To support himself, Wrigley took on odd jobs and sold newspapers.

New York of the late nineteenth century was a hostile environment for young boys. The adventuring twosome headed home just a few weeks later.

Wrigley was always getting into trouble at school until he left for good to work at the family factory. It was rumored that he was expelled. His first job was stirring a huge container of liquid soap for $6 a month.

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Learning the business quickly from the ground up, Wrigley Jr. took a regional sales job. He traveled throughout the eastern states by train. He also sold soap from a vibrant red wagon surrounded by four horses with bells.

William Wrigley Chicago

William Wrigley Heading West

Wrigley once more attempted to set up on his own rather than relying on the family business to support him.

Aged 18, he headed west but lost his train ticket in Kansas City. He finally got home to Philadelphia and the family factory. This time, he remained for more than a decade.

Wrigley had spent two decades ion the soap business by 1891. At the age of 29, he moved to Chicago with his wife, Ada, and their young daughter, Dorothy. His goal was to go into business for himself. He intended to sell soap for his father’s company while also offering a premium product of baking powder with each purchase. Wrigley often commented that everybody wanted something for nothing, and for the remainder of his business life, he fiercely championed the idea of bonuses.

Wrigley Jr. arrived in Chicago with just $32 in his wallet, but he swiftly brokered a $5000 loan from his uncle. Funds were contingent on his cousin becoming Wrigley’s business partner.

William Wrigley Mansion
William Wrigley Mansion

Both Wrigley and the partner realized customers were much more interested in the baking powder bonus than the soap it was bundled with. The pair pivoted into the baking powder business without hesitation.

All that remained was to conjure up another premium. After all, they couldn’t offer baking powder with baking powder.

Wrigley decided upon chewing gum which had grown in popularity in the 1860s after being introduced to America in the form of chicle by Thomas Adams, a New York inventor.

Chewing Gum Around The World

Wrigley started giving two packs of chewing gum away with every purchase of baking soda. This continued until he once again understood that consumers were more interested in the premium than the product.

Addressing this in 1892, Wrigley Chewing Gum came into being with its first two brands: Vassar and Lotto Gum.

Over time, the baking powder and soap side of the business was decommissioned and the focus turned fully to chewing gum.

In the late 1880s, the chewing gum business was cut-throat. More than a dozen firms aggressively pushed their wares on a welcoming public.

By 1899, the largest six companies merged, forming what was known as the chewing gum trust. Wrigley was offered a place in this trust but he declined. Despite stiff competition and several close brushes with bankruptcy, Wrigley forged ahead regardless.

Wrigley appreciated the power of advertising, and he spent a large chunk of the company budget on pushing products through ads and gimmickry.  

In the early days of the company, Wrigley did most of the selling himself. He had an intuitive grasp of what customers wanted and needed. He continued expanding his premium offers with giveaways including fishing tackle, cookbooks, lamps, and razors. The premium system was so effective, in fact, that Wrigley eventually published catalogs so customers could choose which premiums they wanted.

Wrigley utilized all forms of advertising available to him from newspapers and magazines to posters in outdoor spaces. He embraced the simple but powerful motto of “tell em quick, and tell em often”.

Seminal flavors Wrigley’s Spearmint and Juicy Fruit were introduced in 1893 and 1894 respectively. Wrigley designed the Spearmint package logo himself and decided to focus the company’s efforts on promoting that flavor where all other companies had failed.

Public reaction was not initially favorable, but Wrigley stuck to his lane and pushed Spearmint relentlessly.

In 1907 Wrigley spent $284,000 on advertising, the bulk discharged on promoting Spearmint. This was a depression year so Wrigley leveraged $1.5 million of advertising for that $284,000.

As a result of this wild gamble, sales skyrocketed. By 1909, company revenue exceeded $1.3 million. BY the following year, Wrigley’s Spearmint was the best-selling chewing gum in the U.S.

Wrigley’s introduced Doublemint gum in 1914 and the company was soon the largest global gum manufacturer.

Wrigley’s gum was made by Zero Company since 1892. In 1911, Wrigley bought the company and has manufactured its own products ever since.

Expanding into foreign territories, Wrigley established gum companies in Canada in 1910. He then established factories in Australia in 1915, Great Britain in 1927, and New Zealand in 1939.

Harnessing the growing power of advertising, Wrigley sold chewing gum in countries speaking 30 languages. Global sales increased company revenue to $75 million by the time Wrigley died in 1932. Profit was $12 million in that year.

To appeal to different tastes abroad, Wrigley introduced flavors more to the local palate. Outside of the U.S., the most popular Wrigley’s product was a pellet-shaped chewing gum branded “P.K.”

Wrigley Buys the Chicago Cubs

Wrigley was a lifelong fan of baseball. He often watched his favorite Chicago Cubs play over the years.

He started buying stock in the team in as early as 1916, and by 1921 he had gained a controlling interest.

He also bought a team in Reading Pennsylvania along with the Los Angeles Baseball Club.

The ballpark, known as Cubs Park, was renamed Wrigley Field in honor of its benefactor in 1926. Wrigley had ploughed over $5 million into the team over the years, and made extensive renovations to the ground.

Beyond the rebuilding of Wrigley Field, he also brought in players like Rogers Hornsby and Hack Wilson to strengthen the time.

In 1929, Chicago Cubs won their first pennant for 9 years. They went on to claim 4 pennants over the following decade, although the team didn’t manage to win a World Series.

When Wrigley died in 1932, full control of the team went to his son, P.K. Wrigley.

Latter Years

In 1919, Wrigley purchased Catalina Island, situated off the California coast.

This family retreat was resplendent with exotic imported birds everywhere.

Wrigley mined on Catalina, finding deep reserves of silver, zinc, and copper. He brought about many improvements to the island from steamships and public utilities through to building a hotel and a casino.

Over 1933 and 1934, the Wrigley Memorial was built to applaud Wrigley’s love for the island of Catalina.

Ada, his wife, thought of creating a huge garden showcasing plants from all over the world. Spanning 37 acres, the garden was a fitting tribute to Wrigley’s commitment to conservation.

In Chicago in 1924, the Wrigley Building was constructed. The 27-story clock tower on the building was modeled on Seville’s Giralda Tower. The Wrigley Building is two buildings interconnected by a sky bridge at the intersection of the Chicago River and Michigan Avenue.

Wrigley purchased the Arizona Biltmore in 1930. This winter resort just outside Phoenix was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. The Wrigley family owned the resort for over 40 years before its sale in 1973.

William Wrigley, Jr. died in 1932 on January 26. According to The New York Times, the cause of death was acute indigestion, complicated by heart disease and apoplexy.  He died in a home he constructed near the Arizona resort.

Wrigley had a simple philosophy which summed him up neatly: be pleasant, be patient, be on time, and never argue.

He told his son that nobody at the Wrigley company should ever forget that they were in a five-cent business. This set the tone for the company.



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