By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
One of the fixtures of my youth was Wrigley’s chewing gum. My mom always kept a pack in her purse. Her go-to flavors were Spearmint or Double Mint, and there were many Sunday mornings when she would rip two sticks in half, distributing a half each to me, my two younger sisters, and herself as we listened to the preacher before Sunday school.
Of course what we asked for when we went to the store with her was Juicy Fruit. Don’t ask me why we liked Juicy Fruit as kids. We just did, and getting a pack to share – or better yet, all to ourselves – was a special treat. Not only was it sweet and (I guess) fruity, but when she got us a pack of Juicy Fruit we could have a whole stick to ourselves. The flavor also lasted a lot longer than the inferior, but honestly fruitier, Fruit Stripes gum.
When I got older, and started high school, my gum of choice was the cinnamon Big Red. I kept a pack of the gum in my car at all times, so I could have fresh cinnamon breath before school or after eating onion rings or garlic bread at lunch. The gum was 25 cents a pack for most of my memory. I’m not sure what a five stick pack of gum costs today, or if you can even still get those five stick packets. I haven’t seen one in ages, though I do still get one of the larger packs of Wrigley’s gum on occasion. But I thought the gum must have always been, and would always be, 25 cents a pack.
Looking at some of the old ads in Uncle Jack’s scrapbook, I was struck by the fact that this consistent price was also a selling point 100 years ago. Of course, the gum was cheaper then. Instead of the near constant quarter a pack I remember, in 1919 the cost for a five stick pack of Wrigley’s gum was a nickel; one penny per stick. That makes sense. Inflation touches everything over the course of a century. It’s no wonder that the gum of my youth – the 1980s and 1990s – was cheaper in the late 1910s and early 1920s. But what struck me about the price was an ad touting the consistent pricing. Wrigley’s gum, it noted, was 5 cents before the war, 5 cents during the war, and still 5 cents after the war.
Another ad that caught my eye was one touting how Wrigley’s packs were “electrically sealed.” I’m still not sure what this means, but I thought it was interesting as a selling point, equating cutting edge sealing technology with the preservation of freshness.
Whatever they were doing, Wrigley’s must have been doing something right to stand the test of time and last as a brand for more than a century. While ads from the era are full of brands we wouldn’t recognize today, there are also a lot of brand names that would be familiar to most of us. Camel and Lucky Strikes cigarettes, for instance. Prince Albert tobacco in a can is also still available today, though it’s popularity has waned considerably over the last century. But 100 years ago the tobacco that would inspire generations of prank calls was still fairly popular among smokers. Ford automobiles are another brand that has held on, and whose ads you could find in newspapers of the era, as were drugs from Rexall, now a value brand but one with an obviously long legacy.
The ads for brands that didn’t last are just as intriguing, but mainly because of their mystery. I’m still not sure what Bone Dry is, for example. Is it a soft drink? Is it a low alcohol percentage beer? While I have no idea what it exactly was, I know that the Carter County Herald had more than one ad for the drink, so it must have been popular. Not popular enough to last the test of time that Wrigley’s, Ford, Camels, and Rexall weathered, but popular enough.
Who knows, maybe in another 100 years someone putting together a flashback story about 2020 will find this article and, unwrapping a $1 a stick piece of Juicy Fruit or Big Red, they’ll marvel at the longevity of the gum brand they are chewing, and enjoy the even older ads we’re sharing here.
Editor’s Note: This is the 14th in a series of articles drawn from the historical newspaper clippings in the scrapbooks of Jack Fultz. We thank Sally James of Sally’s Flowers in Olive Hill for sharing her uncle’s collected clippings with us and the community. – Jeremy D. Wells, editor, Carter County Times