February 6, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
William Wrigley

There are several ways to build a successful product. One can improve upon an existing product or invent a totally new product. However, William Wrigley, Jr. chose the toughest route of all. He took a bad habit and converted it into a world-wide obsession.

Wrigley legitimatized chewing gum by advertising. He became the largest advertiser of any single product. "Advertising," he once said, "is like running a train. You've got to keep on shoveling coal into the engine. Once you stop stoking the fire goes out and the train will gradually slow down and come to a dead stop." By the time of his death at age 70 in 1932 Wrigley had spent $100,000,000 in advertising. The growth of his company never slowed down.

Wrigley was the eldest of eight children born to a Philadelphia soapmaker in 1861. At the age of 11 he fled home for New York to seek his fortune. He sold newspapers and slept on park benches and quickly lost his zeal for independence. He returned home to his parents and schooling.

A school prank backfired on the curly-haired Wrigley and he was expelled from school to work in his father's little soap factory. The labor was hard and Wrigley begged his father for a chance to peddle soap on the road. Selling soap across the countryside from his wagon Wrigley was successful but found the work dreary. In 1880 he set out for a new mining boom in Leadville, Colorado.

He made it as far as Kansas City when his money ran out. Working as a waiter and counterman in a doughnut shop Wrigley saved enough money to buy a supply of rubber stamps which he sold at enough profit to return home to the soap factory.

Now he stayed 11 years before wanderlust seized him again. This time with a wife of five years Wrigley left for Chicago, the new metropolis of the west in 1890. He had $32 and one carload of soap when he established William Wrigley Jr. and Company.

Competition was keen but Wrigley found some success with a shipment of umbrellas he gave away to retailers as a premium. He hired a salesman who had worked with baking powder. Wrigley added the baking powder to his line with good results.

No one knows how Wrigley became interested in chewing gum. He ordered his first batch in September 1892 as an inducement to buy his baking powder. Jobbers found they could sell the free gum better than the baking powder so Wrigley decided to sell chewing gum. His first product was the long-forgotten "Wrigley's Vassar."

The gum was mixed like dough, rolled, cut into sticks and packed by hand. Wrigley changed the product by making chicle, a juicy extract from tropical trees, his main ingredient. Growth was slow. He began advertising with trademark arrows and elves and gradually his gum gained acceptance. On two occasions he collected the names of every telephone subscriber in Chicago and sent each a package of chewing gum.

In 1902 Wrigley came to New York with $100,000 to attempt a large-scale advertising campaign, but failed. Another attempt failed until in 1907, despite a general economic recession, he broke through with a $250,000 national campaign. His name and products became firmly established in American culture.

Chewing gum factories were established in London, Berlin, Toronto, and Sydney as well as Brooklyn. Wrigley gum packages eventually bore wording in 37 languages as output reached 40,000,000 sticks a day, always selling for 5¢ a pack.

During World War I when Wrigley discovered some retailers were selling his gum for as much as a dime he took out extensive ads proclaiming his gum cost 5¢ and anyone selling it for more was a wartime profiteer. In 1919 Wrigley's ads proclaimed, "5¢ before the war, 5¢ during the war, 5¢ after the war."

In the 1920s the chewing gum business was less of a challenge for Wrigley. He became sole owner of Catalina Island, 25 miles off the California coast, and developed it into a sporting resort. He undertook development projects in Arizona as well. In Chicago he built the white terra cotta Wrigley Building, opening up Chicago to business north of the famed Loop.

Wrigley dabbled in coal mining, transportation, hotels, ranching and the motion picture industry but his great passion was baseball. He purchased the Chicago Cubs in 1924 and spent over $6,000,000 making the team one of the model franchises in the National League. His team won the National League pennant in 1929 but never a World Series Championship in his lifetime.

In 1925 Wrigley turned the presidency of the company over to his son Philip to spend more time with baseball. Wrigley's control over the gum empire did not wane until his death, however. As Chairman of the Board he was asked what would happen if his Board disapproved of one of his decisions. Wrigley replied, "Then we'll get a new Board of Directors." His son recalled that stockholder meetings rarely lasted beyond a reading of the last meeting's minutes and Wrigley's asking for a motion of adjournment which quickly came.

Wrigley's death came in the depths of the Depression, which he combatted by providing shelter in his Chicago buildings and feeding 500 jobless men daily through the Salvation Army. The hard times had little effect on his business, however. "People chew harder when they are sad," noted Wrigley shortly before his death.

No comments: