The first bubble gum that actually blew into reliable bubbles and was sold in stores was Dubble Bubble bubble gum, introduced in 1928 by the Fleer chewing Gum Company of Philadelphia. Earlier, in 1906, the owner of the company, Frank Fleer, had attempted to market a bubble gum under the name of Blibber-Blubber. Unfortunately, this early bubble gum would end up all over the chewer’s face. What’s more, it could only be removed from the face with turpentine.
Frank H. Fleer had been a salesman for a candy flavoring company. At that time, Adams and Wrigley were already selling a lot of chewing gum. But, although Adams was already selling Tutti-Fruti gumballs out of vending machines, the first of their kind, and such gumballs are today invariably bubble gum, the chewing gums of those days did not have the strength or the elasticity to blow into a large bubble without bursting. Chicle and Spruce, which gums were made from, lacked the properties needed to make bubble gum. Fleer saw that chewing gum was big and decided to get into the game.
He wanted to produce a more fun gum, one that could be blown into bubbles but would have to find new, possible synthetic, materials to do so. He began making different flavors of chewing gum in the late 1800’s, by adding the company’s flavoring extracts to chicle gums, while working on the bubble gum problem.
His first try at bubble gum, Blibber-Bubble, was able to make a bubble because it had enough surface strength. However, it lacked the elasticity it needed to snap back when the bubble burst. Instead of instantly returning to its original shape, it would spread itself over the chewer’s face, where it would hold fast, needing strong measures, turpentine, to remove it. Most of us have had the experience of a poorly made bubble gum bursting all over our face, but we didn’t have to use paint thinner to remove it! Reportedly, Blibber-Bubble was also tough to chew. Bubble Gum would have to wait.
Meanwhile, in 1904, Fleer introduced Chiclets, the first candy-coated. Chiclets were little tablets of chewing gum coated with peppermint flavored candy. They were very successful, thanks in no small part to ad space being taken in the Philadelphia Bulletin to advertise the new product. They sold so well that the company had to expand it’s manufacturing facility. Chiclets became so well-known that it became a part of common slang, to refer to teeth. Fleer sold the Chiclet making operation to the American Chicle Company, which was basically a “trust” formed by the consolidation of Adams Gum, Yucatan Gum, Beeman’s Gum, Kis-Me Gum, and S.T. Britten, for which Thomas Adams Jr. served as chairman. Chiclets are still available today, in the original peppermint and assorted fruit flavors, manufactured by Cadbury Adams.
Later, in 1928, the accidental, breakthrough which led to Dubble Bubble occured. It was not Frank Fleer who was responsible for this fortuitous breakthrough, but a company accountant named Walter Diemer. Diemer had been experimenting with chewing gum recipes in his spare time. He was not trying to come up with a bubble gum, but was working on an unrelated problem. One of his batches, however, turned out more stretch and less sticky than the others. He had happened upon a successful formula for bubble gum.
At least, it seemed that he had. Diemer made a five pound batch of the gum and showed its bubble blowing properties to his employers. They were amazed, but, there was something wrong with the formula: it had a short shelf-life. After about 24 hours, it lost its bubbly goodness. Diemer worked another four months and was able to solve the problem, and the company produced three hundred pounds of the gum in August, 1928. The company only had large enough stocks of one color: Pink. So, that was the only color Dubble-Bubble came in, and it became the standard color for bubble gum ever since. They began selling it in small, individually wrapped pieces at a small store in Philadelphia, the day after Christmas.
In 1930, Fleer began inserting black-and-white comics into each piece, featuring the characters Bub and Dub. These characters were replaced by Pud, in 1950. Bazooka bubble gum by Topps, with its Bazooka Joe comics, did not actually come out until after World War II. Although many people think that Topps was the first to begin including trading cards with its gum, Fleer actually began producing trading cards to sell with its gum in 1923 with its famous pictures series, which depicted landscapes and points of interest, but also including 120 baseball players, such as Babe Ruth, some with boxers, and other famous people. 1 In 1935 they included a set of cards with cops and robbers. Still, trading cards, let alone sports trading cards, was still a sideline and Topps had been deep into this business since 1953 with its sports trading cards business, by the time Fleet got serious about it in 1959. Still, although Bazooka became the best selling bubble gum in America, Fleer did become known for trading cards as much as bubble gum.
Growing up in Mississippi, I (Eric) well remember those individually wrapped pieces of pink Dubble Bubble bubble gum. We used to get them in Sunday school. After all, Feer had a plant in Mississippi, and in the 1980’s, plenty of Dubble Bubble was being sold. In 1992, the Marvel Entertainment Group aquired the Fleer Corporation, and as the Comic book market began to tank two years later, Fleer became very important to Marvel’s revenue. Marvel sought to expand it’s trading card business by purchasing Skybox in 1995. But due to player strikes in professional sports, the trading card business began to suffer right along with the comic book business. All the trouble made marvel lose focus on the bubble and Dubble Bubble was in trouble.
Dubble Bubble was purchased in 1998 by an up and coming Canadian company, Concord Confections of Concord, Ontario. They paid $13 million and also aquired 6 million U.S. dollars in debt. Marvel, in contrast, had originally paid $286 million. Marvel did hold on to the trading card side of the business, which they later relaunched as Fleer/Skybox.
Although colored balls of bubble gum had long been sold from vending machines, Dubble Bubble, the first true bubble gum, had never done this. Concord was the first to actually start selling colored vending-machine gumballs with the Dubble Bubble brand. Later, in 2004, Concord, in turn, was acquired by Tootsie Roll Industries. This could be seen as an ironic destiny for Dubble Bubble, as during the height of 1929 depression, it was outselling Tootsie Rolls, long America’s favorite penny candy. 2 Today, Dubble Bubble is available in other flavors beside the original pink, including, Pink-Lemonade, Blue-Razz, Apple, Sour Cherry, and Watermelon.
Diemer, bubble gum’s inventor, never earned any royalties for his invention. He maintained that he did not care, and through his like, he received no credit. He stayed with the company until 1985 and did not really receive public credit until he died at age 98 in 1998, and was given the lead obituary in the New York Times. 3 4 5 6 7
- It is often erroneously reported that Fleer did not begin producing sports cards until the 1960’s. On the contrary, they produced many in the 1920’s, and some specimens still survive.
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