The Wrigley himself

July 25, 2011

The Wrigley Gum Company is moving out of the Wrigley Building. So let's take a look at the man who started it all.

William Wrigley Jr. was born in Philadelphia in 1861. His family manufactured soap. When he was 30, William moved to Chicago, planning to open a branch of the business.

"Everybody likes something for nothing," he said. Along with each can of scouring soap, Wrigley included some baking powder as a bonus. The baking powder soon proved more popular than the soap, so he made the baking powder his primary product. Now he needed a new bonus item to go with the baking powder.

Wrigley began giving away two sticks of chewing gum with his baking powder. And once again, the bonus became more popular than the original product. So much for baking powder. Wrigley started making gum.

In the 1890s chewing gum was just catching on in America. Wrigley had many compertitors, but he was a born marketer. "[William Wrigley] was the last of the super-salesmen," Bill Veeck later wrote. "He was a well-upholstered, jovial man who liked people and knew what made them tick."

Wrigley enjoyed his work, saying that nothing great was ever done without enthusiasm. In the early years he did most of the selling himself. Even when the company became a global success, he never quit pushing forward. New flavors were always being trotted out.

Promotion never stopped. When he moved into a new market, he hired attractive women to pass out free samples. Merchants who sold the most gum were given free gifts--lamps, razors, fishing tackles, cookbooks, and whatever.

And he advertised everywhere. By 1910 millions of people were chewing gum. If you asked them why, they probably couldn't have explained it.

William Wrigley had become one of the richest men in the world. He began branching off into other fields. One of his projects was Catalina Island, off the coast of L.A., which he made into a major resort. Back in Chicago, he built the magnificent company headquarters in 1921. It was the first major office building on the Magnificent Mile.

And the Cubs! All his life, Wrigley had been a baseball fan. When he got a chance to buy stock in the team in 1916, he jumped at it. A few years later he had the controlling interest.

He renamed the ballpark Wrigley Field, spruced it up, and added an upper deck--the vines came later. He also spent money on the finest available players. The Cubs won the pennant in 1929 and set a major league attendance record.

As Wrigley grew older, he devoted more of his time to his Western operations. His last business venture was the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix. Son Phil took over the gum company. The Cubs were run by William Veeck Sr.

William Wrigley Jr. died in 1932. If you seek his monument, he left some dandy ones.