When an idea blows up in an inventor’s face, the inventor usually isn’t too happy. Not so with Walter E. Diemer. In 1928, Diemer was a 23-year-old accountant for the Fleer Chewing Gum Company in Philadelphia. But on his lunch hour and after work, he was an inventor.
Diemer’s office in the Fleer Company was near the chewing gum production machines. When Gilbert Mustin, who ran the company at the time, tried to create a bubble gum, he put the small vat for mixing his recipes in a corner next to Diemer.
“He said to me, ‘Watch that, will you?’” Diemer recalled in a 1992 interview. “After awhile, I was not only watching it, I was doing it.”
Diemer experimented with recipes for a gum base and hit on success in September of 1928 when he including a natural form of latex in his recipe. It created bubbles and it also allowed the gum to be easily removed from skin and clothes. The characteristic pink color came about because that was the only type of food coloring that was available when he made the recipe.
“It was an accident,”’ Diemer said in a 1996 interview with The Lancaster Intelligencer Journal. ‘’I was doing something else and ended up with something with bubbles.’’
With his new formula showing some promise, Diemer used a salt water taffy machine and wrapped 100 pieces of his new gum. He took the five-pound batch to a small Philadelphia grocery store where it sold out in one afternoon for a penny a piece.
Diemer continued to refine his recipe through December. Then the Fleer Company took over production, wrapped the new gum in a yellow wrapper and named it Dubble Bubble.
“I never thought it was anything that’d last,” Diemer told the Harrisburg Patriot News in a 1992 interview. “I thought it’d be here today, gone tomorrow.”
Diemer helped market his creation by teaching salesmen how to blow bubbles so they could demonstrate the gum. Sales of Dubble Bubble were more than $1.5 million the first year. At a penny a piece, that means more than 150 million pieces of bubble gum were sold. Nowadays, the bubble gum business is nearly a $1.5-billion industry.
Dubble Bubble wasn’t the first bubble gum made, but it was the first one that was actually successful. Fleer Company founder Frank Henry Fleer had made a batch of bubble gum in 1906. He called his gum Blibber Blubber, but it was too stick and broke too easily so it was never sold to the public.
Dubble Bubble had no competition until after World War II, when the Topps Company of Brooklyn began wrapping bubble gum in comics and calling it Bazooka. Both brands became known internationally, and other companies later made bubble gum in sticks, flakes, nuggets, powders and even pastes, noted the New York Times in its obituary for Diemer.
Though Diemer eventually became a vice-president in the Fleer Company, he never received any royalties for his invention. However, he did receive plenty of fan mail from children thanking him for inventing bubble gum, according to his wife Florence Diemer. “Although he rarely chewed gum, he would invite groups of children to his home and tell them about his invention, then preside over bubble-blowing contests, his wife said,” according to the New York Times.
“He was terrifically proud of it,” Mrs. Diemer said. “He would say to me: ‘I’ve done something with my life. I’ve made kids happy around the world.’”
Diemer died of congestive heart failure in 1998 at a hospital in Lancaster. He was 93.