Recreational chewing:
A retrospective

Blackjacks and Beemans:

The origins of chicline

Blibber-Blubber Doubble Bubble

Workin' on the Chain Gang

Gum Facts
(that smack of the truth)

Gumball Machine

The irrepressible Wrigley

Pick 'n Chews Pilgrimages

Tom and Becky: A love story

Sticky Questions — a quiz

Gumball Machine

Gum machines have been dispensing gumballs and little Dentyne-sized pieces of stick gum, since before the 1880s. The stick gum machines were famous for their 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 money.

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.
In 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

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