The Wrigley Himself

Wrigley Field.  The Wrigley Building.

Two of Chicago’s most famous landmarks are named Wrigley.  If you’re into architecture, you probably know about the Wrigley Mansion, too.

Wrigley is a gum company.  But the word has become so identified with a product that we forget there was somebody named Wrigley who started it all.  After all, when you hear “Disney” or “Ford,” do you first think of Walt or Henry?William Wrigley

Older Cub fans remember long-time team owner Phil Wrigley.  The man we’re talking about here is his father, William Wrigley, Jr.

He was born in Philadelphia in 1861.  The Wrigleys of that era made soap.  William moved to Chicago when he was 30, planning to operate a branch of the family business.

“Everybody likes something for nothing,” he said.  So along with each can of scouring soap he sold, Wrigley included some baking powder as a bonus.  The baking powder soon proved more popular than the soap.

What would you do?  Wrigley switched over and made baking powder his primary product.  That meant he needed a new bonus item to go with the baking powder.

Now Wrigley began giving way two sticks of chewing gum with each box of 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 competitors, 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 tried.

Wrigley ad

The promotion never stopped.  When he moved into a new market, he hired attractive women to walking around passing out free samples.  Merchants who sold the most Wrigley 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 America.  He began branching off into other fields.  One of his projects was Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles, which he made into a renowned resort.

With his nose for publicity, Wrigley decided his gum company needed a headquarters building that people would talk about.  In 1921 he bought a site next to the new Michigan Avenue Bridge, and erected the magnificent terra-cotta wedding cake we all know so well.  It was the first major office building on what was to become 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.

Wrigley--ball game

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.  Son Phil took over the gum company.  The Cubs were run by William Veeck Sr.  His last business venture was the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix.

William Wrigley Jr. died in 1932.  If you seek his monument, there are some dandy ones around Chicago.



1 Response to “The Wrigley Himself”

  1. 1 benson September 30, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    Good post today. Funny how outgoing William was, and how opposite son, P.K, was. Also, how both Wrigley’s and Veeck’s sons became team owners, and personality wise, polar opposites.

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