But that just doesn't do the story justice. That's about the same as trying to describe to someone the glory and magnificence of the Grand Canyon while showing them an old, faded, flashcube-made Polaroid picture.
It don't hack it :(
There are a number of pieces out there about Walter Diemer. Some better than others. And I thank the people who have taken the time to write them. But in a time when he seems, 82 years after his invention, to be almost totally forgotten, I thought it was time for someone to step up and give the man the recognition he so richly deserves. And who better to do that than the Commissioner of bubblegum's greatest bubble blowing contest? A contest which would be on an extremely long list of things in our culture which likely wouldn't exist today (at least in their present form) without the great invention of Walter Diemer.
The greatest article there is on Walter Diemer. Where else but on bubblegum's greatest website, bubblegumheaven.com?
Our story begins with an overview of the place where it all began, what we think is the birthplace of bubblegum, followed by the history of the time leading to when Walter Diemer came on the scene.
"IN THE BEGINNING" (1928, Early August, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, USA)
Sat an old building at approximately 5336 N. 10th St, where apparently railroad tracks split and go on both sides of the lot it sits on. This building, the home of the Frank H. Fleer Corporation, was, we believe, the birthplace of bubblegum. We have a bit more detailed information:
Frank H. Fleer Corp. N. 10th & Somerville Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19141 (215)455-2000, Fax (215)457-8207
A picture of this building can be seen on the internet from a November 29, 1995 article in the Sarasota Harold Tribune, which said that the plant was closing after over 65 years of making bubblegum, which would make it pretty safe to say that this was the place it all began, the birthplace of bubblegum. The picture is here: (1) (you can see these sources at the end of the article).
A good aerial view of the area is here:(2)
And a great, rotating view of the building from the front can be seen here )(3) (go there, and type into the search box "5336 N 10th, Philadelphia" without the quotes. Then look towards the center of the screen where it says "more" with a "down arrow" to the right. Click where it says "more" and then on the drop down menu where it says "street view" and click that. The screen view can be moved by pressing the mouse on the screen and then moving the mouse, and the view from the road can be moved by clicking the little arrows on the line on the road. You can click on the icon next to the "x" at the upper right hand corner of the picture to get a view that fills your entire screen). Pay particular attention to the third floor, this is where we are told Walter Diemer had his office, very close to the office of company president Gilbert Mustin, son-in-law of company founder Frank Fleer. We would imagine that Mustin's office was probably Fleer's when he ran the company. Next to Diemer's office was a lab Mustin had set up to experiment with gum base. It was in this lab that bubblegum was created.
We can just imagine what happened there on that fateful day, following the buildup over time that company owner Frank Fleer had pushed for to bring bubblegum into existence. The long wait had finally ended, and history was finally beginning to be made. But before we get to that, let's first set the stage with the events leading to it.
According to an article at (4) company president Frank Fleer was born in 1860 and married the daughter of Otto Holstein, a German Quaker who had built a flavoring extracts factory in Philadelphia in 1949. Fleer apparently took over the company after Holstein's death in the 1880's and in a few short years began making gum from chicle flavored by his companys flavorings. Might the Fleer factory shown in the sites above have been built by Holstein as his extracts factory? I dont know but Id think its possible. Then Fleer's company became one of the first to begin selling gum in coin operated vending machines, a beginning which would prove to be related to two of the most spectacular and important episodes in bubblegum history.
The article then says that a story in The Great American Chewing Gum Book said that Fleer was approached by a vending machine salesman who wanted to sell Fleer's gum in the machines. He said the machines were a novelty and that people would put pennys in them even if they got nothing in return. Although Fleer was skeptical he put one in the famous triangular, visually iconic Flatiron Building at 5th and Broadway in New York, near Madison Square Garden. People were told to "drop a penny in the slot and listen to the wind blow." (Which, if you read the history of the Flatiron building here(5), was a very interesting thing to say. Apparently, the shape of this building formed a wind tunnel that would blow women's dresses up, and men would be there to watch, and then were "23 Skidoo"'ed (moved along or kicked out) by police, which some think is where that famous slang expression from the 20's started. The story of Fleer's vending machine being put at this location only adds that much more to the history of this wonderful location. I heartily recommend reading this page). And hundreds of people did just that, until the machine was taken away by the police. Fleer then ordered several of them. Incidentally, the word "skidoo" is thought to have come from the even older word (and I bet what a lot of cosmopolitan New Yorkers of the time would consider a lot more "countrified") "skidaddle."
(What I don't get about this story, as its told, was why police would take it away? Did they think it was a "gambling machine?" Were gambling machines legal then? We know that, according to this(6) that the first gambling machine was developed in 1891 in nearby Brooklyn, but it was far more elaborate than a machine that you could drop a penny in and have nothing happen. Perhaps I could see them taking the machine away if no gum was given, and all the customer got was "to hear the wind blow," but the whole point was that gum was being sold through the machine, so exactly what was so illegal about that to have the machine taken away?).
This first use of a vending machine by Fleer was one of two most spectacular and important episodes in bubblegum history involving gumball machines. The first being the importance of gumball machines to selling bubblegum and just how much must have been sold out of them, because over the years they started popping up seemingly everywhere. The second was the coming many years later of the Continental Gum Company, a maker of gumball machines, and it's owner, Bruce Weiner, who was destined to create Concord Confections and buy Fleer's (and Walter Diemer's) creation, Dubble Bubble, and create a whole new and exciting (and extremely profitable) era in the early 2000's with the bubblegum unlike any that had ever been seen before. An era that I'm positive would have made Walter Diemer and Frank Fleer gush with pride. One that was based on the big bubble. From that era came the biggest and most exciting bubble blowing contests the world had ever seen. (Incidentally, after the sale of Concord Confections, Bruce Weiner opened the Microcar Museum in Georgia, which is an extraordinarily fascinating place. Inside the Microcar Museum is a room that is apparently dedicated to holding Mr. Weiner's collection of Dubble Bubble memorabilia, which looks like is quite extensive. If you check out this (7) and flip through the pictures you will not only see many of the great cars in the collection, but you will come across a picture of this room. When you look at it pay particular attention to the picture to the left of the Dubble Bubble sign. Could that possibly be a picture of Walter Diemer?).
Being in the business so long, Frank Fleer knew that gum could be chewed and stretched and pulled. But somewhere along the line he had the idea that it sure would be great if you could blow bubbles with it. When or how he first came up with this idea is unknown, at least to us. But he was apparently driven to find out how such a gum could be made, and I can understand what drove him. He must have seen monumental business possibilities in such a product. Imagine taking a product like gum that is loved by millions, and then turning that gum into not only just plain old gum, but a cheap toy that most kids could afford? What if he could make gum really FUN? That's the stuff of business people's dreams. Particularly when you are the owner of a gum factory.
How Fleer ever got the idea of bubblegum in his mind is anyone's guess. But I can imagine that when your life is gum, like Fleer's must have been, you are always looking to do something dramatic with the gum to make it better. I'm sure you have dreams about it. The explanation might have been as easy as Fleer noting bubbles in his gum while it was being manufactured. Or it might be as complex as the following scenario. Imagine yourself being the owner of a gum company before bubblegum existed. Suppose your walking down the street exhausted after a long, hard day in the factory. You see a little kid walk out of the local candy store chewing some of your company's gum. He holds the gum between his teeth, pulls a little of it out between his thumb and finger, and then starts stretching and twirling it around his finger as he stands in front of the candy store window, advertising all that great kids stuff like candy, gum, balloons, etc. Your mind is tired and spinning from the events of the day. You go home and fall into bed and your body tries to sleep and you toss and turn, and the little sleep you do get is full of dreams.
But one dream stands out. That little kid and your gum twirled around his finger. The image of him holding it between his teeth, and the gum coming out while some of it stays between his teeth. The advertisement from the window comes into view, with a particular emphasis on the word "balloons." From there it's not hard to see the dream morphing from the kid twirling the gum to blowing up a balloon to blowing a "balloon" with that stretchy, sticky gum in his mouth, but it isn't a balloon, it's a BUBBLE!
The dream snaps you wide awake. Your mind screams, "What if I could turn regular gum into BUBBLEGUM?" You know you have another long hard day ahead of you and you need your sleep, but forget it. It's not going to happen as possibilities engulf your mind. Imagine that little kid. How much he loves gum. The fun he was having just twirling it around his finger. And for sure it wasn't just him, there would be millions of kids out there just like him. Millions of kids who'd just love the possibility of blowing bubbles with their gum, the bigger the better. And you, having just about all the pieces in place to make it happen? A gum factory? The machinery to make it? The distribution to sell it? All you'd need to do to make it happen would be to discover how to make that bubblegum work!
This could be the idea that turns your lifes work into the success of your dreams, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!
The one that makes you obsess about "gettin' it done."
That may not be the way he got his inspiration, but I'm positive Fleer was dreaming big when he began his mission to create bubblegum.
The story re-emerges somewhere around 20 years later, give or take, in 1906, when he introduced what was called by the article the "world's first bubble gum." The name was, in typical kid's candy company fashion, "Blibber-Blubber." According to (8) it was like Silly Putty, that it was brittle and sticky and produced sticky wet bubbles that splattered when burst, instead of snapping back, as the formula had not enough surface tension and elasticity. Maybe worst of all, it was difficult to blow bubbles with and it was hard to chew.
Close but no cigar. Fleer must have saw the shortcomings of his product and decided it couldn't be sold. Blibber-Blubber never saw the light of day on a store shelf. For reasons not explained in the article at (9) , Fleer went on to sell his chewing gum company in 1909, and I'm sure the imperfection of Blibber-Blubber must have been exceedingly painful and had a horrible impact. But all was not lost. He later went back into business in 1913, as the Frank H. Fleer Corporation. However he wasn't in the gum business, apparently his sale of the gum company in 1909 prevented that. Instead he made candy, and it was at this time when the Fleer Corporation may have "stuck their toe in the water" and tested a business that was to play a very prominent role in his companys future, the baseball card market. In 1923 they apparently came out with a 120 card set of athletes and entertainers, including Babe Ruth.
Unfortunately, Fleer was never around to see that, having died in 1921. Nor was he there to see his bubblegum dreams get off the ground. The company was taken over by his son-in-law, Gilbert Mustin, who apparently kept the idea of a bubblegum-filled future afloat.
Then one day a decision was made by the Fleer Corp. to hire a cost accountant who was destined to go completely "out of the box" and change the face (actually, millions of not billions of faces) of the gum chewing world. To do one of the grand and glorious things of American history. Invent bubblegum.
What a story. I mean how incongruent can it get? Walter Diemer, who was born in Philadelphia and apparently lived his whole life there (or nearby), married to Adelaide and the father of one son and a one daughter, is hired by the Fleer Company in around 1926 at the age of probably 21 or 22 (we know this from an account that says that he was 23 years old when he invented bubblegum in 1928, and that he had searched for the formula for a year. Chances are he never met Frank Fleer himself, since Fleer died in 1921 and Diemer would have only been around 17 at the time. Another account here (10) said it was 1926, and he was given job as a cost accountant, and a 3rd floor office near Gilbert Mustin's. He was an accountant, of all things, a profession some think of as one of the most boring professions imaginable, with no background in chemistry. Yet he was soon to invent one of the funnest products ever known to man!
It raises the question of exactly why was he doing what he was doing?
A clue comes from the account at (10) Apparently Mustin was on hard times and knew he had to cut costs, so was trying to invent his own gum base. (Apparently the Fleer Corp. had been back in the gum business-remember Frank Fleer's deal said he couldn't get back in the gum business, so it could be that restriction was lifted when he died). So he set up a lab next to Diemer's office and started experimenting. Apparently one day Mustin was doing this and the phone rang, the only one in the factory and on the bottom floor, and Mustin had to go answer it. He asked Diemer to watch the batch he was working. Diemer became fascinated while Mustin then lost his interest in gum base. Apparently Diemer kept experimenting for a year, mixing things by guessing, and then trying to blow bubbles with each batch. He did this in his spare time and his lunch breaks. This (11) said the missing ingredient was a "natural form of latex", and it looks like the day he added that it was all over.
So why would an accountant be playing around with gum recipes in his spare time? To make a new blockbuster regular old chewing gum, in an industry that probably had those for years? Seems unlikely. To create a new gum base and score points with the boss? Well, he was a cost accountant and knew costs were a big issue. But that only seems little more likely. See, Walter Diemer was a dreamer. And he somehow found himself in a position where he could utilize all the hard-won skill, knowledge, experience, equipment and materials of the Fleer Corp. and just maybe become THE guy to discover the grand prize of a lifetime, the invention of Fleer's dream, bubblegum. Invent bubblegum with the Fleer Company and you'd be a hero!
I can imagine people working in the factory knowing what might have been at stake if the product could ever come to life. All that bubblegum that could be sold would mean lots of money for the company and, likely, job security for them, which I'm sure they found out was an extremely valuable thing in face of the coming depression. And I imagine, judging by what Diemer did with his invention after it was created, that he must have poured a lot of thought into it. Imagine the possibility in making a piece of candy into a toy. Imagine what would happen by making gum into something that could not only be chewed, but could be had fun with? Imagine blowing bubbles with gum? Imagine if they were big bubbles? Imagine one kid telling another kid he could blow a bubble bigger than his, and the other kid said "nuh uh!" Imagine having a contest? Imagine having many contests! Imagine people blowing big bubbles and getting their names in newspapers for it, and all the free advertising for bubblegum that would make? Imagine kids reading about it and wanting to blow big bubbles of their own?
Imagine the wild stampede of kids to the candy store to buy all that bubblegum in all corners of the globe!
Anyway, from the time Fleer started his bubblegum dreams in probably the 1880's or 90's, to the days of Walter Diemer playing with bubblegum recipes in his spare time, finally in early August of 1928 it somehow all came together. Diemer finally busted through the wall and came up with a batch that was less sticky than regular chewing gum and stretched better. One account says that it produced a big bubble that didn't stick when it broke, one of the old problems with Fleer's Blibber-Blubber from 22 years earlier.
Diemer must have given himself a big pat on the back, knowing that what Frank Fleer tried to accomplish back in the 1890's and on through to his own experimenting were finally "in the bag," (or, in his case, in the vat) because bubblegum had finally been created!
And at what a time. The company and the country would soon be heading into the big depression. Times were not good. According to the account at (10) Gilbert Mustin was afraid he was going to have to lay off some employees around Christmas.
When he made his big discovery, Diemer took the bubblegum to other people in his office. One account says they blew bubbles and laughed. Another said that they laughed and danced. Well, just imagine the scene. People had to know that times weren't good. Maybe some of them realized their jobs could be on the line. They all had to know bubblegum was a big company dream for years and years. And I think it would be hard for anyone who worked in that business to at least not see some of the potential of bubblegum. They all had to know the story of Blibber-Blubber, perhaps there were even company veterans who had experienced Fleer inventing it. Maybe some of them had even chewed it. Then along comes Walter Diemer with a bubblegum that actually worked! This was big news that could mean some great things for the company. They had to know this would be something good for all of them!
So anyway, according to this account, now Diemer had the formula, it was time to work the problems out, so he worked four more months. One of those problems was that the bubblegum went hard after one day and would not blow bubbles anymore. He added flavors (wintergreen, vanilla, peppermint and cinnamon, the same that are still used). Some accounts say that he used pink as the coloring because it was the only one he had available, which seems pretty hard to believe. The whole gum factory only had pink coloring? To me and the bubble blowing world of today, this one fact provides a major clue as to what Diemer's beliefs of what bubblegum was to be. It was pretty obvious that he could care less about color or flavor. There was only one thing about bubblegum that was going to make it into what he dreamed. Those all-important bubbles! Everything else was simply irrelevant. That's what other gums and candys were made for.
Finally in December 1928 Diemer must have thought it was time for some action. According to this (10), he had a 300 pound batch made up. The employees were afraid it would break the blades of their machinery (and they probably thought that would be the end of the line for them), but that didn't happen and the batch came out good. The employees wrapped the pieces using a machine that normally wrapped saltwater taffy.
Finally, in what I imagine was a most dramatic moment, Gilbert Mustin strode to the podium with memories of his father in law, Frank Fleer, who had given him the company, Blibber-Blubber and all of the bubblegum dreams of the past, raised the gavel over his head and announced in booming voice "I hereby declare this new bubblegum be called DUBBLE BUBBLE!" as normally mild-mannered accountant Diemer, grinning ear to ear, raises a box of his creation over his head in victory in his best Olympian gold medal-winning pose, in front of the uproarious crowd (knowing that their jobs had just been saved), as the gavel comes crashing down in slow motion and exploding into a million pieces to end the scene. (Well, maybe not, but if I was writing the movie!).|
And what a victory it was, as they were soon to find out. On December 26 either 100 pieces or five pounds, according to which account you read (perhaps 100 pieces were 5 pounds) were sent to a candy store at 26 Schenectady Street in Philadelphia, a street that apparently can not be found on current Google maps. By the end of the day all the pieces were sold for a penny apiece, which may not seem like a lot of money now, but back then it must have really been something. Actually it must have been very incredible, as anyone who has ever worked in a store can probably tell you, to see a brand new product that no one had ever heard of before come into a store unannounced, and have the entire shipment sell out within a day. Compare that to these days of Ipods, Ipads, and Iphones. Sure people may line up around the block and stay all night to get their hands on those things, but that's all based on tons and tons of advertising and pent up anticipation. This was going into a store with a product that had only recently been invented, had never even been advertised, and probably no one had ever heard of, and yet it sold out in one day! One day of this had to prove to Diemer, Mustin and all the people at the Fleer Factory that the long, hard four and a half decade search for bubblegum was probably going to be one of the greatest things to ever happen to their company. Finally those bubblegum dreams were coming true!
In another account of this )(12) the author said "talk about beginners luck!" No way! This was way more than that. This was a product that had been over forty years in the creating. Dreamed about. Agonized over. I bet a lot of sleep was lost and tons of frustration were poured out over the creation of bubblegum. This was a story about men who just wouldn't quit dreaming and doing, despite the frustration. They would not be stopped. These men had to have great faith that bubblegum would be a great thing, and that kids would fall all over themselves to get it, because it was way different than anything anyone had ever seen. Not only was it good, it was FUN. I'm positive all the people at Fleer must have seen the success of the first day and envisioned the same thing happening everywhere it would be sold all across the land, for years and years into the future. And here we are today. Bubblegum is still going strong!
Anyway, many have made the comment that neither Diemer nor Fleer ever patented the product, sometimes making it seem like that might have been a really dumb move. Was it? I sometimes wonder if it were even possible for Diemer to do so. I'm not a patent attorney. But Fleer had created Blibber Blubber. Perhaps if a patent had been made it would have been under the Fleer Corp's name, I don't know. But whatever, I prefer to think that not getting a patent was pure genius on both Diemer's and Fleer's part. They didn't have to disclose their recipe and their bubblegum is an American icon, 82 years later. That's success that can't be argued with.
It's said that they sold over 1.5 million dollars of bubblegum the first year at a penny apiece, which would be over 150 million pieces. A piece of Dubble Bubble today measures about one inch long, and if that was the size of it back then, that would have come to about 12.5 million feet long, or over 2300 miles if they were all laid end to end, about the distance from Philadelphia to the beach at San Diego. Bubblegum indeed was heading from sea to shining sea! According to The Inflation Calculator here (13), the cost of that first year's bubblegum, 1.5 million dollars in 1928, would have cost $18,614,593.73 today. To put that in even more perspective with the times, it's said that Babe Ruth earned $80,000 in 1930, which was $5,000 more than President Hoover's $75,000 (When asked about that, Ruth said "I know, but I had a better year than Hoover." For sure. 49 homeruns, 153 RBI's and a .359 average in 145 games as the Yankees finished an unbelievable 16 games behind the Philadelphia Athletics, who played at Shibe Park at 30th and Oxford Streets, just a few miles from the Fleer Factory, and went on to win the World Series. What a time it must have been for Diemer, what with the hometown A's and Ruth making big news, especially if the Fleer Factory was making baseball cards at the time (which I'm not sure of). Meanwhile, Hoover was mired in the middle of the biggest depression our country had ever seen, when one of the biggest things going was "Brother can you spare a dime?"). Incidentally, using the same calculator, Babe Ruth's 1930 $80,000 salary would have been worth $1,018,234.19 in 2009. Today a major leaguer's average salary is $2,996,106, almost triple what Babe Ruth's would be worth! That's BABE RUTH. The Bambino! The Sultan of Swat! Baseball's greatest player! The home run king! He built Yankee Stadium! ("The House That Ruth Built."). (While it doesn't seem right that today's average salary should should be almost triple that of the great Babe Ruth, it should be noted that Ruth played baseball before the coming of television, and the big money contracts it pays to baseball, which are a major reason there is so much more money in the game for players these days. Actually, interestingly enough, TV was invented in 1927 in Brooklyn by Philo Farnsworth, according to an article at (14), and wasn't to become "mainstream" until many years later. Incidentally, 1927 proved to be perhaps Ruth's greatest year as he lead the Yankees, featuring the famed "murderer's row," to perhaps the greatest season for a team ever. (In fact, after one game where the Yankees pulverized the Washington Senators 21-1, Senators first baseman Joe Judge was heard to say "Those fellows not only beat you but they tear your heart out. I wish the season was over.").
So now the bubblegum was on the market and just as was dreamed about, Fleer had a winner that was to become one of the funnest things ever invented. Walter Diemer apparently pushed the idea to the hilt, training salespeople to blow bubbles. I mean what kid would want boring old candy when they could have some nice long lasting bubblegum and blow bubbles with it? Not only did Diemer train his sales people, he also apparently would hold bubble blowing contests for kids at his own home. While Diemer's act of inventing bubblegum was the single greatest thing to ever happen for bubblegum, following that right up was the idea of having contests. I'm sure Diemer could see the joy in the eyes of all those kids when viewing big bubblegum bubbles, and if he could just show that bubbles could be bigger and bigger that would only fire interest in bubblegum that much more. How right he was, as the idea of having fun blowing bubbles with bubblegum spread across the land.
The tradition started by Diemer of contests in his home to see who could blow the biggest bubbles has grown over the years. The famous battle cry "I can blow a bigger bubble than you" has echoed everywhere from The Fleer Factory to Walter Diemer's house, to back yards and school yards around the country and probably around the world, all the way up to New York's Times Square and finally on to bubble blowing's greatest contest, The BUBBLEGUM WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP, held at bubblegumheaven.com.
Well, as mentioned earlier Diemer never did get a patent on bubblegum nor did he make money off of it. The profits made went to the Fleer Company. However according to an account at (11), he was made Vice President of Fleer in 1930 and was placed on Fleer's Board of Directors from 1970 to 1985, which apparently would have given him a 59 year run with the company. That there is a pretty nice life, especially when you consider that life expectancy for a male born in the United States in 1904 was around 47 years.
In July 1990, Walter Diemer reached what may have been perhaps the pinnacle of his bubblegum career recognition wise, when he appeared in an article in Smithsonian Magazine about bubblegum and his role in it. His picture appeared at the top of a page next to a picture of Susan Montgomery Williams, the Guinness World Record Holder for blowing the largest bubble, bubblegum's greatest all time bubble blower. Bubblegum's inventor and it's greatest bubble blower, all right there in the magazine of the museum of American history, in what very likely was the greatest two picture display of bubble gum's history ever.
According to (10) he lived his last days in Lancaster, PA in an apartment riding a big tricicle and handing out bubblegum to kids, and, I'm sure, exhorting them to blow great big bubbles. I don't know if any of those kids realized it at the time, but imagine being one of those kids, and getting a piece of bubblegum directly from the creator's hand!
Walter Diemer, inventor of bubblegum and the person who made everything bubblegum had ever done possible, died Jan 8, 1998 (according to one account) on his 93rd birthday, in Lancaster, PA nearly 70 years after his creation of bubblegum.
If Walter Diemer never existed, what would the bubblegum world have been like? Maybe bubblegum would never have existed. He certainly had a lot of advantages in inventing the product, being in the Fleer Factory with all it's gum tradition, knowledge and experience gained over so many years, and being right there on the same floor as Gilbert Mustin, Fleer's son in law, experimenting with gum in a room in a lab next to his office that Mustin had set up to experiment with gum. I'm sure dreams of creating a better Blibber-Blubber was always there. Fleer certainly saw the potential bonanza of profits bubblegum could produce, and I'm sure Mustin felt the same way. Judging by the happiness that ensued in the office when Diemer announced his discovery, it seems pretty obvious that the monkey was finally off the back of the entire factory. Combining all that with Diemer's natural curiosity about bubblegum and his willingness to use his spare time-unpaid, I'm sure-trying to discover a good formula, I think it's quite possible to say that had Walter Diemer never become an accountant at the Fleer Corporation, bubblegum very likely never would have existed.
What would have been the ramifications of that?
Jobs would have been lost in the depression. Kids would have missed out on one heck of a lot of fun, big bubbles would never have existed, and this story would never have been written, that's for sure. But that doesn't even begin scratch the surface. What does bubblegum REALLY mean to the world? It's hard to say, but there is a way to at least begin to answer this question. Try going to Google and typing in the word "bubblegum"(without quotation marks) and see what you get. As I write this right now it says "about 7,570,000 results" Try typing in the words "chewing gum" (without quotation marks) and you only get "about 3,390,000 results." That's less than half!
Why it's like that likely represents the real impact bubblegum has had on our culture. See, candy is just that. It's about taste and taste only. In competes with all other candys based on taste. Same thing with gum, pretty much. But bubblegum means a lot more to people than just that great sticky stuff our hero Walter Diemer invented. Just look what happens when you type the word bubblegum into the search box at Google. Right now on my computer a drop down menu shows up with a list that includes such things as "bubblegum layouts," "bubblegum clothing," "bubblegum bud," "bubblegum crises," "bubblegum kush," "bubblegum pop," and "bubblegum vodka." A look through some of the actual search results is even more revealing. It's amazing to see things in the top ten search rankings that don't have anything to do with Diemer's creation. For example, bubblegum music or "bubblegum pop" was wildly popular in the '60's and 70's. And when you go past the top ten there's no telling what you'll find. How about bubblegum surf wax? Bubblegum dancers? A small computer program called bubblegum? Bubblegum comics? Bubblegum jeans? Bubblegum Aesthetics? Bubblegum Crises? Bubblegum Conundrum? A bubblegum story-telling card game? Bubblegum anime? Bubblegum Crash? Bubblegum Private Investigators? Bubblegum art? Bubblegum Culture? Bubblegum lip scrub? Bubblegum soup? Bubblegum Girl Baby Bedding? The bubblegum bandit? Bubblegum Bed and Breakfast? Acerbic Bubblegum? Bubblegum Font? Bubblegum Press? Bubblegum garden? Bubblegum Sci Fi? Bubblegum Sequencer? Bubblegum portraits? Jimmy Bubblegum (a game)? Bubblegum soda? Bubblegum lemonade? Bubblegum machine cake pops? Bubblegum Cocktail Wienies? What does any of THAT have to do with Walter Diemer's bubblegum?
The list probably goes on and on. The point is that Walter Diemer represented far more than just a man who invented bubblegum. His creation had a major impact on our culture and got into the minds of many people who used his product to advance their own creations. I'm sure many of the things that exist today that have the word "bubblegum" attached to their names would still exist in one form or another, but whether they would be called "bubblegum (whatever)" (or be nearly as popular) is doubtful.
So what would Walter Diemer think of bubblegum today?
As far as anything we've ever learned about Walter Diemer, his thing was bubblegum was there to blow bubbles with. BIG bubbles. He wanted those contests. He wanted those salesmen blowing big bubbles. While it may be true that he used the flavorings and colors that were available at the time, the most famous of bubblegum have pretty much stayed pink and tasted about the same. It's all very reminiscent of Henry Ford and his (1917, I believe) edict "They can have a car any color they want, as long as it's black." Walter Diemer obviously wasn't in it for the color of bubblegum or the taste. He was in it for the one thing bubblegum could do that all the other gums and candies couldn't do. Blow those big bubbles. Why on earth, after all that time of painstaking development (and sorrow, I'm sure) would Diemer want to be bothered with turning his creation into just another candy, getting all concerned over taste? They could make any gum they wanted with any taste. But now they had BUBBLEgum to sell, and forget all the other factors. This was about BUBBLES. Diemer was all about HAMMERING THAT POINT HOME.
I think that if Walter Diemer could see what bubblegum is today he would have a lot of pride but I think there would be some major disappointment too. I think he would love to see the accomplishments of The BOMB Squad and competitors of The BUBBLEGUM WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP, the true followers of what Diemer wanted for bubblegum. I think he would also have loved to see the incredible success of Bruce Weiner, whos story and incredible success, I'm convinced, is living proof of the notion that bubblegum is all about one thing, blowing big bubbles. But then I think there would be disappointment with the fact that all too many bubblegum companies seem to forget or ignore, or maybe even perhaps, worst of all, try to CHANGE the big bubble legacy Walter Diemer left them. When you see a company advertising bubblegum because of it's great taste or less stickiness, your simply not seeing it in the way Walter Diemer meant it to be, because all those factors usually mean that you simply can't blow as big a bubble with that gum. Thats the "dumbing down" of bubblegum, and too much of it may perhaps one day mean the loss of Walter Diemer's legacy, that of the big bubble.
Bubblegum today is in a precarious position. It needs a whole lot more Walter Diemer-type thinking. It needs to get back to those basics, before the art of what made bubblegum the cultural phenomena it is is forgotten and totally lost, the art of big bubble blowing. Bubblegum chewers need to know about Walter Diemer and the way he thought, and yet, in some places where you think his name would be most prominent his name barely exists. It's shocking when you think of an invention of such value and cultural importance not being advertised or remembered in the way that created that value and importance.
Anyway, even though we can just imagine what schoolteachers and people who have to scrub the bottoms of school desks, movie theater seats and sidewalks might think of him, and putting aside how much money he may have missed out on from not patenting his product (if it were even possible), Walter Diemer made a comment that puts it all in perspective. "I've done something with my life. I've made kids happy around the world!"
As Commissioner of The BUBBLEGUM WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP, Walter Diemer, I must say bravo! You couldn't have said it (or done it) any better. Thank you for doing all you did, because if you hadn't, we wouldn't be here doing what we do today!
Bubblegum Heaven thanks all it sources of information as listed below (Click to go to those pages). It should be said though that much if not all of what has been drawn on from these sources may perhaps be able to be found at other pages as well.
1) "Bubble Bursts On Original Gum Plant" Sarasota Herald Tribune Nov. 29, 1995
2) Here's a good aerial view of the area of the Fleer Building from Wikimapia
3) A great, rotating view of the Fleer building from the front can be seen here at Google maps
4) What Year Was Frank H. Fleer Born?
5) Flatiron Building (From Wikipedia)
6)History Of Slot Machines And How They Work
7) Tour The World's Largest Microcar Museum in the World Photos
8)Blibber-Blubber (at Wikipedia)
9) Fleer Corporation Company History
10) Walter E. Diemer, Accountant, Inventor 1904-1998 "Pennsylvannia People"
11) Walter Diemer (at NNDB)
12)Who Invented Bubble Gum
13) The Inflation Calculator
14) Fascinating Facts About the Invention Of The Television By Philo T. Farnsworth In 1927.