Bubble Gum: How Dubble Bubble was Invented
Bubble gum. Few adults chew it, but all of us surely chewed the delightful pink stuff while growing up: the sweet smell when unwrapping the paper, the powdery sugar that came off on one’s fingers, the fun of reading the funnies wrapped inside, and the thrill of blowing giant bubbles or even smaller bubbles (particularly if you could get away with it during class). Then finally the bubble gum would meet its tasteless, rubbery end. We know many solved the problem of what to do with it then by sticking it under a desk.
Bubble gum dates to 1928 where it was invented at the Fleer Chewing Gum Company by a 23-year-old accountant named Walter Diemer (1905-1998).
The Fleer Company began in 1849 under a different name. It was a flavoring extracts manufacturer. Frank Fleer (1856-1921) married into the family and joined the business. By 1885 he introduced a new product for the Philadelphia-based company, chewing gum made from chicle, the dried sap from the Sapodilla tree.
Prior Chewing Gums on the Market
The Fleer chewing gum was not the first gum marketed in the United States. The first commercially sold gum was created and brought to market by John Bacon Curtis in 1848. He made and sold Maine Pure Spruce Gum, made from the sap of the spruce tree.
In 1869 two different men took out patents for creating chewing gum but neither ever sold a product commercially.
Thomas Adams was the next businessman to bring a gum to market. He met and worked for Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna for a time. The General told Adams about how people in the Southern Hemisphere chewed chicle. Adams, a New Yorker, worked on a formula and got a patent for his gum in 1871. The product sold as Adams New York No. 1 gum.
Not much later, in 1880, brothers Henry Fleer and Frank Fleer came out with a sweetened chicle product. It was manufactured in small cubes. The Fleers came up with the idea of candy-coating the small squares, calling them Chiclets.
Bubble Gum Attempt Results in Blibber Blubber
By the end of 19th century, Chiclets and Adams gum were not alone in the marketplace. Wrigley was marketing gum, and Dentyne had been created (yes, by a dentist). There was also a tobacco-substitute gum being sold. All these entries into the marketplace made the industry very competitive, and Frank Fleer was searching for a new product–what he hoped would be a gum strong and flexible enough for customers to blow bubbles.
He actually had some success, and he named the gum he created Blibber Blubber. But ultimately, the gum was too sticky. You could blow bubbles but then the gum stuck to everything. Turpentine was the only thing that would remove it.
Bubble Gum First Mastered by Fleer Company Accountant
Twenty-two years later, a young accountant, Walter E. Diemer, was working at the Fleer Chewing Gum Company, and his work was to lead to the answer to Fleer’s question. How do you create a stretchy gum to blow bubbles that can be popped back into your mouth for more chewing and blowing?
The year was 1928 and the president of the company at that time was Gilbert Mustin, son-in-law of Frank Fleer. The company bought their gum base from an outside supplier, and Mustin wanted save money by developing a way to make it in-house, relates Scott Bruce in his book, It Happened in Philadelphia.
Mustin set up a lab on the third floor near the accounting department but at that time companies had few telephones. The only phone at Fleer was on the main floor near Mustin’s office.
Mustin was at work in the lab when he was summoned to the telephone, so he asked the new young accountant to keep an eye on the gum base he was boiling. This experience inspired Diemer to take up a home hobby—working on the process of making gum.
Starting with Frank Fleer’s Blibber Blubber recipe, Diemer tried a variety of combinations of ingredients. He finally came up with something he thought would work. He mixed up a new batch of the substance at home to take to co-workers. The gum tasted good and the bubbles were fine; everyone was pleased. The next day their hopes fell. When Diemer arrived at work to check the gum, he discovered it had hardened to the point that it was no longer chewable.
Diemer went back to his home kitchen and worked for another four months until he found a needed solution. He added a little more latex (a natural substance from rubber trees) and the product remained elastic and chewable for a longer time.
Mustin was delighted and gave permission to Diemer to oversee the factory workers mixing up a batch of the new gum. Toward the end of the process, they all noticed the color was an unappetizing grey. In looking around the factory, the only food coloring available was pink. Diemer instructed the workers to add pink to the mixture. That happenstance explains why bubble gum is usually pink.
Launching the Bubble Gum Product
Right after Christmas in 1928, the product was ready to go. Employees were excited to see if bubble gum had appeal. Diemer and a few others hand-wrapped about 100 pieces of Dubble Bubble in paper (the way salt water taffy is wrapped). Mustin instructed Diemer to take the product to a nearby candy store to see whether it would sell.
Diemer demonstrated the bubble gum for the store owner and left him 100 pieces to sell at a penny a piece. By the end of the afternoon the candy store sold every piece of the bubble gum.
With that, a new product was born. Neither Diemer nor the Fleer Company ever took out a patent on the product. The explanation given was that Diemer felt patenting the product would give the recipe to competitors since patents are made public. However, Fleer had taken out an earlier patent on a gum, so it is more likely that they were concerned about the complication of an employee holding a patent on one of their major products. As an accountant, Diemer probably never signed any type of waiver, thereby complicating the company’s situation.
The Fleer Chewing Gum Company promoted Diemer to be head of manufacturing of Dubble Bubble. He oversaw the product line, and he was the fellow called in to sales meetings to teach the sales force how to blow bubbles.
Bubble Gum Weathers the Depression
Any product developed in the late 1920s ran into challenges when the stock market crashed in 1929. As the economy worsened and the Depression deepened, Dubble Bubble, selling for only a penny, proved it had staying power. Though the Depression reached a
point where families had trouble sparing pennies, when they did want a small treat for themselves of their children, Dubble Bubble was within reach.
Before the onset of World War II, Americans were spending about $4.5 million per year on Dubble Bubble. The gum was so popular it was distributed as part of military rations at the outset of the war. By 1942, rationing became so severe that all chewing gum plants were closed. Both sugar and latex were tightly rationed. The Fleer Company did not start production of Dubble Bubble again after the war.
For a good number of years, Dubble Bubble had the bubble gum market to itself until 1947 when the Topps Company came out with Bazooka bubble gum.
A New Marketing Ploy: Gum Wrapped in Funny Papers
In 1930 the Fleer Company changed the gum-wrapping process,
inserting a funny paper within the gum wrapping. Dub and Bub, the Dubble Bubble twins, were the first stars of the Fleer Funnies. In addition to Dub and Bub, customers also received Fleer Fortunes and Dubble Bubble facts on the tiny piece of waxy paper.
At some point during the 1930s, Fleer dropped Dub and Bub and replaced them with stick people comics. In about 1950, Pud and his neighborhood gang replaced the stick characters. By the 1960s Fleer was still relying on Pud but in an attempt to modernize, the cartoonists slimmed him down.
What Happened to Walter Diemer and the Fleer Company?
Diemer eventually became a senior vice president at the Fleer Company and they also placed him on the board of directors. He stayed with the company for the rest of his career, retiring in 1970. He remained on the board of directors for fifteen years.
As for the Fleer Corporation, the Philadelphia factory was closed in 1995, and the Fleer family put the company on the market. In 1998 Concord Confections purchased Fleer. Concord picked up production of most of the original products and added a bubble gum ball that sold well.
In 2004 the Tootsie Roll company bought Concord. Dubble Bubble continues to be manufactured–two of the three plants are now in Canada.