William Wrigley, Jr. was the founder of Wrigley Gum, a former owner of the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field, and the owner and developer of Catalina Island in California. He was born Sept. 30, 1861 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where his father was in the soap business. William dropped out of school in 1874 at only 13 to help in that business. He prided himself on being an enthusiastic salesman and promoter.
According to legend, he arrived in Chicago from Philadelphia in 1891 with $32 in his pocket. He started selling Wrigley Scouring Soap, a product made by his father. In the soap, he included baking powder as a premium to induce merchants and customers to buy the soap. But the baking powder proved to be a more popular product than the soap so he switched to selling the powder. The same thing happened when he included chewing gum as a premium with the baking powder, and then the gum proved more popular still so he focused on that product instead.
In the year of the Colubian Exposition, 1893, Wrigley came out with two brands of chewing gum under his own name, Wrigley's Juicy Fruit was first and then Wrigley's Spearmint Gum came out later that same year. Like other Chicago food pioneers such as Oscar Mayer of Oscar Mayer Meats and James L. Kraft of Kraft Cheese, Wrigley too believed in marketing to customers under a brand name which was not common in the 1890s. He was enthusiastic about advertising and promotions, and above all about quality. His early company philosophy was: "Even in a little thing like a stick of gum, quality is important."
The Wrigley Company today includes products in addition to gum such as Lifesavers and Altoids Mints. Wrigley products are sold in 180 countries. There are production facilities with 15,000 employees worldwide in 13 countries and offices in 36 countires and annual sales are about $4 billion. Since 1924, the company's international headquarters has been the beautiful landmark Wrigley Building at 400 North Michigan Avenue just north of the Michigan Avenue Bridge. It was the first high rise building north of the river and it helped to start the transformation of a warehouse district in the early 1920s into what is today The Magnificent Mile. Tribune Tower was completed about a year later in 1925 across the street.
According to the Wrigley Company web site, "In the very early days, William Wrigley Jr. personally did much of the selling to the trade. He had a gift for seeing his customers' point of view and accommodating himself to their needs. As the company grew, Mr. Wrigley showed an unusual knack for inspiring enthusiasm in the people who worked with him."
"Mr. Wrigley was also one of the pioneers in the use of advertising to promote the sale of branded merchandise. He saw that consumer acceptance of Wrigley's gum could be built faster by telling people about the benefits of the product through newspaper and magazine ads, outdoor posters and other forms of advertising. Then, as more and more consumers began to ask for and buy Wrigley's chewing gum in the stores, the storekeeper would naturally want to keep a sufficient stock of Wrigley brands on hand."
By 1919 William Wrigley owned a majority of shares in the Chicago Cubs that he had purchased from Charley Weeghman. In 1925 he separately purchased Weegham Park, later called Cubs Park. In 1926, the park was named as Wrigley Field and it still stands today after many rennovations and the addition of lights in 1988. For many decades there was a second and slightly smaller Wrigley Field located in Los Angeles that was home to the Los Angeles Angels, a then minor league team of the Pacific Coast League. Although it was torn down many years ago, that Wrigley Field can still be seen in many baseball movies made in Hollywood.
In 1925, William Wrigley, at age 64, turned over the help of The Wrigley Company to his son Philip K. Wrigley who has been born in Chicago in 1894. "P.K." Wrigley, as he was often called, also took over ownership of both the Cubs and Wrigley Field upon his father's death on Jan. 26, 1932 at the age of 70.
Mr. William Wrigley, Jr. leaves a legacy to Chicago of several landmarks, and a successful wordwide snack food products company with thousands of jobs in Chicago that still sells some of the products that Mr. Wrigley first introduced in 1893.