The Father of Chewing Gum: The Early Years of William Wrigley Jr.

William Wrigley Jr. was just 29 years old when he used his life savings of $32 to start up his own soap manufacturing business. After experimenting with selling both soap and baking powder, Wrigley Jr. finally found his niche in chewing gum. He did not invent it, but he did go on to build the top chewing gum manufacturer in the world, bringing it for the first time to the masses, first in America and then around the world. William Wrigley Jr. was born on September 30, 1861 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father was the founder and president of the Wrigley Manufacturing Company, which mainly produced Wrigley's Scouring Soap. Growing up, Wrigley Jr. took a strong interest in his father's soap business, even taking it out onto the streets and selling soap from a basket. Wrigley Jr. had caught the sales bug.

Although life at home was a peaceful one, Wrigley Jr. decided to run away at the age of 11 to make a living for himself. Together with a friend of his, the two young boys set off to New York City, where they took up odd jobs and worked paper routes to survive. But the rough streets of New York proved too much for the boys, who returned home just a few weeks later.

Back in school, Wrigley Jr. found it hard to focus, and spent most of his time getting in trouble rather than hitting the books. Finally, Wrigley Jr. was expelled, and he went to work full time for his father. For $1.50 a week, Wrigley Jr. spent his time stirring a large vat of liquid soap. It was a dull job, but one that allowed the boy to quickly learn all the ins and outs of the business. Eventually, Wrigley Jr. moved into a regional sales job, traveling the Eastern states by train and horse, and selling his soap along the way.

Despite an attempt to make a living independent of his father when he was 18 years old, Wrigley Jr. remained in the family business for another ten years before finally leaving to strike out on his own again.

At the age of 29, Wrigley Jr. moved to Chicago to go into business for himself. He had just $32 to his name, but managed to secure a $5,000 loan from an uncle after agreeing to make his cousin a business partner. He started manufacturing and selling soap, since that is what he knew how to do best. But with poor sales, Wrigley Jr. began offering a can of baking powder for free with each soap purchase.

Soon, Wrigley Jr. realized that his baking powder was more popular than his soap, so he switched to manufacturing that full time, and instead offered free chewing gum as a bonus. And, in an all-too familiar pattern, Wrigley Jr. quickly saw his bonus become more popular than the actual product he was selling.

Realizing the huge potential, Wrigley Jr. was about to make the last product shift he ever would have to make.

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