The benefits of chewing gum

William Wrigley Junior Building, Chicago

William Wrigley Junior Building, Chicago

“Life is what happens…,” John Lennon wrote, “while you’re making other plans.”

William Wrigley Junior (1861-1932) arrived in Chicago at the age of twenty-nine believing he’d make his fortune selling Wrigley’s Scouring Soap.

As a marketing ploy he offered a tie-in with baking powder, and found the baking powder sold better than the soap.

So he took to selling baking powder, with an offer of chewing-gum.

The chewing-gum proved more popular than the baking powder and Wrigley’s fortune was made.

He launched his Juicy Fruit and Spearmint brands in 1893 and at the end of the First World War, when the Michigan Avenue Bridge was under construction, he commissioned the Chicago architects Graham, Anderson, Probst & White to design the William Wrigley Junior Building (1919-24).

This much-loved structure heralded the opening up of North Michigan Avenue after the bridge opened in 1920.

The Wrigley Building’s odd geometry reconciles the curve of the river to the gridiron street-plan:  in fact, it divides into two buildings, of which the taller, 30-storey riverside tower has hardly more than half the floor-space of its 21-storey annex.

Its gleaming white surface, suggestive of the product that paid for it, consists of six gradations of faience, from a cream at ground-level to a blue-white at the turret.

Wrigley used part of his fortune to embellish Chicago in other ways.

As the majority owner of the Chicago Cubs baseball team from 1921 he gave his name to their ballpark, Wrigley Field, in 1926, from which the surrounding area gained the name Wrigleyville.

In 1928 he paid for James Earle Fraser’s reliefs on the northern bridgehouses of the Michigan Avenue Bridge, literally outside the front door of his office building.

All this grew from a substance, chicle, that was originally imported from Mexico as a possible substitute for rubber, but proved marketable as a chewing product.

“Life is what happens…while you’re making other plans.”

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Windy City:  the architecture of Chicago please click here.

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