Vintage Advertising: Chew on This!

The story behind Wrigley chewing gum.

Vintage ad for Wrigley's Gum

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Vintage ad for Wrigley's Gum
Gum guy: One of Wrigley’s first advertising icons was “Spearman,” introduced in 1915.

Mention Wrigley and you think gum, right? William Wrigley Jr. counted on just that. Son of a soap manufacturer, Wrigley was born in 1862 Philadelphia. A prankster who was expelled from school, Wrigley, at 13, began selling Wrigley’s Scouring Soap on the streets. Later he traveled from town to town, convincing merchants to stock his father’s soap. At 29, he struck out on his own heading to Chicago with $32 and a dream of running his own business. First, he sold soap, offering a free can of baking powder with every sale. Trouble was, baking powder outstripped demand for soap, so Wrigley went into the baking powder business. To spur sales, he again offered an incentive — chewing gum. The strategy worked. But again chewing gum proved more popular than the product he was selling. Wrigley saw an opportunity. In 1893, he introduced two now-iconic brands — Wrigley’s Spearmint® and Juicy Fruit®. What set him apart from other gum makers at the time was his use of advertising. Through newspaper and magazine ads, highway billboards, and other venues, he built public acceptance and awareness of the Wrigley’s brand. More and more consumers began asking for Wrigley’s gums. By 1908, sales of Wrigley’s Spearmint topped $1 million a year. In 1915, he organized the first-ever national direct-marketing campaign, shipping sticks of gum to every address listed in U.S. phone books. When he retired in 1925, Wrigley had transformed a small business selling soap into the top chewing gum manufacturer in the world. “Anyone can make gum,” he once said. “The trick is to sell it.”

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  1. Fascinating feature on the history of Wrigley’s gum. The determination and savvy of William jr was quite astounding, employing all of the media outlets of the day available to get his gum products known and sold, and he sure succeeded!

    He would have been really thrilled at some of the TV ads for Juicy Fruit in the ’80s! Using original, clever, happy/upbeat music and the catch phrase “The taste is going to move ya” how could he not?! You can find them on you tube. For additional classic ’80s ad fun, check out the “I wanna pop” Shasta commercials circa 1983. (The penguins and lit up piano keys are my personal favorites).

  2. Billy Wrigley tried selling soap,
    Offered baking powder for free,
    Then sold baking powder on hope
    That sales would spur incentively,
    So gave chewing gum on the side.
    Gum – a winner, lo and behold,
    So Wrigley ads went nationwide,
    And made a mint in Spearmint sold.
    Spearman with pointed hat and smile
    Spearheaded the vast ad campaign.
    Papers and billboards did beguile,
    And won chewing public domain.

    Spearmint – the flavor lasting – yum!
    Wrigley’s Spearman sold it – buy gum!


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