Classic Chicago

Q&A with William Wrigley

William Wrigley, Jr. You likely know his name from the stadium where the Chicago Cubs play...

MAY 2015 – Or maybe you’ve chewed some of his gum. But did you know William Wrigley was a founding member of the Chicago Athletic Association? We chat with Wrigley about his life.

CAA: You initially followed your father into the family’s soap business, but eventually starting a chewing gum company. How did that happen?
William Wrigley: When I first came to Chicago in 1891, I sold my father’s Scouring Soap. I would offer merchants incentives to buy the soap and would give out free samples of baking soda, which proved more popular than the soap. In turn, I started selling baking soda and gave out two packs of chewing gum, which eventually would become more popular than the baking soda. That’s when I decided to start the chewing gum company and introduced Juicy Fruit to the world in 1893 — the same year the CAA opened, mind you — and the rest is history.

CAA: Did you always manufacture your own gum?
WW: No, initially I teamed with Zeno Manufacturing, which had a factory on Ashland Avenue in Chicago and they made a few flavors of gum for me, including Vassar, Lotta Spearmint and, of course, Juicy Fruit. By 1897, gum sales surpassed $1 million and we employed 500 people. Eventually I partnered with Zeno in 1910 to form the William Wrigley Jr. Co. and sales that year topped $4.5 million. A few years later we introduced Doublemint, which went on to be a massive success.

CAA: How did you come to buy the Chicago Cubs?
WW: I was a big fan of the sport and I would go to Cubs games often with my pals. We would joke around, drink beer and I would even give cigars to the players. In 1916, because I loved baseball so much, I started buying stock in the team and within five years I owned a controlling stake in the team. I also bought the Los Angeles Baseball Club and a team in Reading, Pa. The Wrigley family would own the Cubs until it was sold to the Tribune Company in 1981 for $20.5 million.

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