The Trick is to Sell It,” Wm. Wrigley Jr.
By Megan McKinney
The trick was to sell it, and sell it he did. William, who appears to have been born with an authentic genius for marketing and extraordinary branding, continued to observe a policy of pouring a large percentage of profits back into advertising. It was a strategy the company would maintain throughout the 20th century and into the 21st—even during World War II when there was no gum to sell. Astute advertising was reinforced by such tactics as placement of Wrigley displays beside stores’ cash registers.
However, advertising and adroit support marketing was just the beginning of William’s brilliance for spreading the Wrigley message, as well as Wrigley goodwill. How much was calculated and how much was simply a byproduct of Mr. Wrigley’s basic personality is difficult to know. His name, and hence that of his product, became intimately associated with various appealing aspects of Chicago and America—beginning with a loveable component of the great American pastime.
When it came to fulfilling his dream of providing the company with an office building of its own, the structure that emerged bearing the Wrigley name was the most distinctive and engaging in the Chicago of its time and for a long time after. And, there was scarcely a more visible site than the one he chose—then or now. Even today, when southbound Michigan Avenue buses approach the stop at the great, green water that bisects the city, does the interior sign—or the recorded voice—signal “Chicago River”? No. The stop is “Wrigley Building.”
Consider such details as lighting: How often in the past century has the name Wrigley been uttered in regard to the nighttime floodlights that are so lavishly, and famously, focused on the Wrigley Building? And how frequently has it been spoken concerning lights not being on in Wrigley Field?
Second only to his gift for effective branding was William Wrigley’s talent for friendship with other phenomenally successful self-made men, with whom he formed business partnerships and other significant alliances.
Several were members with him in a mastermind group with Andrew Carnegie known as Chicago’s “Big Six,” which is thought to be the first mastermind group. The five other Chicagoans were John Daniel Hertz, William C. Ritchie, John R. Thompson, Charles A. McCullough and Albert D. Lasker.
Adman Albert Lasker.
Lasker was proprietor of the Lord & Thomas advertising agency, then the largest in the world. Thompson owned a successful chain of lunch rooms, McCullough’s firm was the Parmalee Express Company and Hertz and Ritchie jointly held the Yellow Cab Company. The group was formed in the 1920s and met every Saturday night with the intention of exchanging feedback for ideas; although, occasionally, they helped each other secure capital when needed on an emergency basis.
Chicago Cubs owner William Wrigley Jr.
There was a widely heralded business venture involving Wrigley and Lasker even earlier, when, in 1916, the two joined meatpacker J. Ogden Armour in investing in the Chicago Cubs, then a money losing, poorly run National League baseball club.
Wrigley with player Pete Alexander and Cubs manager Bill Killefer in 1922.
Armour’s business reversals during the 1920s are well known, and Lasker was a Cubs partner only until around 1921, when he sold nearly all of his large holdings to Wrigley, but not because of need; the two men simply had a friendly policy disagreement. The transfer was not revealed until the June 6, 1925 issue of the Chicago Tribune, and Lasker retained a few shares, as well as his place on the Cubs board of directors.
Majority control converted Wrigley into an enthusiastic owner, who began to turn the club into a profitable operation. Although he was a diligent executive of the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company—and spent several hours a day on the telephone with the Chicago headquarters when he was out of town—he seldom missed a Cubs game when in the city.
Wrigley, who was in other associations with both Albert Lasker and John Daniel Hertz, was not as cozy with either as they were with each other. Hertz and Lasker were “so close that they had a joint stock account,” according to Lasker biographer John Gunther, who reported the advertising tycoon was virtually unharmed by the 1929 stock market crash, because “John Hertz, with stunning intuition, guessed what was going to happen and sold some of their holdings just before the market collapsed. He was in the nick of time. Lasker, in truth, did not want to sell; Hertz overrode him and in fact went to his comptroller in the Lord & Thomas offices and arranged to liquidate some of his holdings without even letting him know,” from Taken at the Flood, The Story of Albert D. Lasker.
Sándor Herz AKA John Daniel Hertz.
As for Wrigley and John Hertz, the two great moguls mirrored each other long before the existence of MBAs—so long before, that education beyond the first few grades of grammar school was completely irrelevant to business success.
Hertz was born in 1879 as Sándor Herz in Ruttka, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is now Slovakia. He immigrated to Chicago with his parents at five and ran away from home at 12; like Wrigley, his education ended at that age, too. He left the household with only his school books, which he sold for pennies and found odd jobs to survive, mainly selling newspapers and running errands as a copy boy for an editor of the Chicago Record.
Although he couldn’t drive, Hertz plunged into the world of automobiles as few men ever have. After finding a job selling cars, he noticed the number of automobile trade-ins and was struck with a plan for forming a taxi company with low prices, so the common man could afford to ride in the cabs. Within three years, he had assembled a fleet of seven used cars, which became the nucleus of his taxi business.
In 1915, he formalized his firm as the Yellow Cab Company, painting the taxis yellow because a study at the University of Chicago determined it was the most distinct color at a long distance. He quickly franchised Yellow Cab throughout the country and in a single decade, Yellow Cabs were in 1,300 American cities.
During the following seven years, Hertz, first, founded the Chicago Motor Coach Company to operate bus transport services in Chicago, next, the Yellow Cab Manufacturing Company, which produced taxicabs for sale, and then the Yellow Coach Manufacturing Company to manufacture coaches and later cars.
In 1924, he acquired a rental car business, renaming it Hertz Drive-Ur-Self Corporation. General Motors bought the Yellow Cab Manufacturing Company in 1926, and Hertz joined GM’s Board of Directors. Then it was on to show business.
Both Hertz and Wrigley, along with Sears President Julius Rosenwald, were backers of Balaban & Katz in their movie palaces, including the indestructible Chicago Theatre, which opened on October 26, 1921 and just keeps on going—as each of these men would continue to do, separately and together. More of this to come.
Megan McKinney’s series, The Wrigleys of Wrigley City, will continue in Classic Chicago with “Wrigleys Westward.”
Robert F. Carl