In 1928, a 23-year-old numbers man by the name of Walter Diemer was employed by the Fleer Chewing Gum Company.
Employed an accountant, Diemer also had a scientific bent, and enjoyed spending his spare time messing around with different gum recipes in the Fleer factory.
One day, after a year of experimenting with any and every combination of ingredients, Diemer stumbled on a recipe which intrigued him. He had added latex rubber to the mix, and the resulting gum was something quite new. It was simultaneously much less sticky than conventional gum, and far more elastic–it could be stretched and extended into huge dimensions.
Perhaps it could even be blown into bubbles…
A gum with the capacity to be blown into a bubble was something of a holy grail within the gum world, and certainly within the Fleer Company. Frank H. Fleer, who had founded the company in 1885, had produced a gum called Blibber-Blubber in 1906–but the Blibber-Blubber bubble burst before it began.
Blibber-Blubber was both too brittle and too sticky, and its bubbles were too wet–they splattered when burst. The only way to remove the residue from one’s face was with vigorous scrubbing with a solvent. The writing was on the wall–Fleer never brought Blibber-Blubber to market.
So Diemer’s discovery was a true revelation. Quickly searching for a food-coloring in the factory, all Diemer could find was pink food-dye–so pink it was.
Then–disaster. The following day, Diemer lost the recipe, and found himself utterly incapable of recreating his result. Infuriated, he devoted the next four months to attempting to replicate his initial success.
Finally, he did. Wasting no time, Diemer took his first batch of bubble gum, wrapped 100 pieces, and rushed them to a candy store, where they sold out in 24 hours.
Fleer marketed the new gum Dubble Bubble–and it was a smash-hit. Within a year, Dubble Bubble had generated $1.5 million. This result was partly due to Diemer’s hands-on approach–he instructed Fleer’s salespeople how to blow a bubble, a skill they then demonstrated to their customers as ‘bubble-teachers.’
While sales of bubble gum took off in the Great Depression, as an inexpensive treat, production was halted during World War II. But after the war, bubble gum sales rapidly grew and it became symbolic that figurehead of the post-war world–the teenager.
Walter Diemer received no royalties whatsoever on his invention, but professed not to mind. In fact, he rose to become Senior Vice President at Fleer, and following his retirement could be seen around his neighborhood on his tricycle, handing out pieces of bubble gum to all and sundry.