The next time you step in bubble gum, don’t despair. Think to yourself: “I am stuck to one of Philadelphia’s greatest exports.”
We begin with Frank Fleer, a German immigrant who moved to Philadelphia in the 1880s and established a candy company.
From its headquarters in the Fairmount neighborhood, the Fleer Corporation became a national success.
Among the company’s early hits were “Chiclets,” the first candy-coated gum.
By the 1920s, Fleer was a millionaire. Still, one great candy breakthrough eluded him:
He correctly assumed consumers would enjoy a gum that they could blow into bubbles. In 1906, Fleer had patented an early version called “Blibber-Blubber.” But it didn’t stick — in part because the substance itself was too sticky and brittle.
Fleer died in 1921, with the bubble-puzzle still unsolved.
Seven years later, in 1928, a 23-year-old accountant named Walter Diemer was messing around in his spare time at the Fleer factory.
After repeated failures, he cracked the code, creating a mixture that allowed him to blow a bubble, pop it, AND clean up the mess fairly easily. Because the substance had an unattractive, gray hue, Diemer dyed it pink.
Dubble Bubble was born. And the world had bubble gum.
There was some initial resistance.
A national ad campaign financed by Fleer attempted to dispel the idea that Dubble Bubble contained “harmful and injurious ingredients.”
But bubble gum was on its way, and the confectionary coup became a cultural touchstone.
In later years, the Fleer Corporation probably became better known for the trading cards it sold with its gum.
Fleer had a long battle with fellow-gum-maker Topps, which it successfully sued to open up the baseball-card market in the 1980s.
But Fleer’s most popular and enduring invention remains bubble gum. The Tootsie Roll company still sells the twist-wrap chews, still just as pink.
For his discovery, accountant-turned-pioneer Walter Diemer received relatively little compensation. He got no royalties. He simply continued to collect a salary from Fleer.
Diemer, however, said he had no regrets.
“I’ve done something with my life,” he reportedly told his wife. “I’ve made kids happy around the world.”