machines have been dispensing gumballs and little Dentyne-sized pieces
of stick gum, since before the 1880s. The stick gum machines were famous
mirrors in front, a smart bit of merchandising, because most people
will check themselves in a mirror, and while there, maybe drop a penny
into the slot.
Early gumball machines were often quite pretty
the glass globe distorting the balls to make the multicolor balls look
unearthly and slightly bigger than life, the fire-engine red base creating
a three-alarm wail among kids hankering for a sweet chew. Gumball machines
were simple at first in fact, too simple,
because kids learned pretty quickly how to stick their fingers up the
hole and get a free ball. After that bug was worked out, however, some
of them went to gimmickry a machine made
by the Pulver Company featured a little mechanical man who held the
ball in his hands and dropped it down the shoot when you put in your
In this century, much of the gumball market was taken over by the Ford
Gum and Machine Company, the only US company that makes both machines
and the gum that stocks them (about 2 billion balls a year). It was
founded in 1918 by a roofing salesman named Ford S. Mason, who used
his first name in a familiar script design instead of his last, figuring
that it couldn't hurt to have people think the machines were related
to the popular Model T.
At the time,
gumballs in machines were often pretty bad, and the machines unreliable.
According to The Great American Chewing Gum Book by Robert Hendrickson
(Scarborough, 1980), Mason's father, a Baptist minister, urged him to
manufacture his own machines as well as gum so that the brand would
become associated with dependable quality. ("Make your own machines,
my boy, and share your profits with God.") His father believed
so strongly in the machines, that he took time away from his sermons
and designed a machine for his son, one so simple yet dependable that
the basic design remains unchanged to this day. Mason worked on perfecting
and branding the gumball, coming up with a stamping machine to stamp
FORD on each gumball at the rate of 25,000 an hour, and figuring out
a waterproof glaze so that condensation inside the machine won't ruin
them. Try it: Run water over a machine-bought gumball and the color
probably won't come off.
1939, a women's charity group in Columbus, Ohio, suggested that local
merchants donate their 20% cut from Ford machines to local children's
charities. The idea caught on, and now 3,500 service clubs and organizations
share about $2 million a year from the Fordway Program.
early gumball machines still attract the eye and buyers at antique shows,
and gumballs still account for about 3% of the total chewing gum market.