World War II and Beyond
A participant in Phil Wrigley’s wartime All-American Girls Baseball League.
By Megan McKinney
Seventy-year-old William Wrigley Jr. died in Phoenix on January 26, 1932, of “acute indigestion, complicated by apoplexy and heart disease,” according to The New York Times. William’s religious fervor had never advanced beyond agnosticism; therefore, it wasn’t odd that the memorial service in Chicago’s St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church featured ushers from Wrigley Field and the funeral music was “Aloha Oe,” his favorite tune.
Williiam’s widow, Ada, was elected to the boards of several Wrigley-controlled companies, including Chicago National League Ball Club, but not to that of the company bearing her husband’s name.
Phil, 38 when his father died, was, in contrast to William, quiet and methodical, shunning the limelight. His primary business ability was in advertising, and he was an ardent devotee of his father’s motto: “Anybody can make chewing gum. The trick is to sell it.”
During his presidency, Phil had managed to sell Australians on “chewing sweets” because to the Aussies the word gum suggested glue. His avocational interests were mechanics, electricity and photography. He owned three Packards and three Duesenbergs, which he repaired himself. He also tinkered with airplanes and enjoyed working with radios, motorboats and such.
Phil repairing a whistle on his 98-foot yacht, Fame.
The great Chicago Tribune political cartoonist John T. McCutcheon was the photographer of this image. He and Wrigley were on a flying H-Boat in rough water halfway across Lake Michigan when the raft was struck by trouble, immediately addressed by Phil’s mechanical talents.
Partially because of three patterns that have been predominant in the company throughout its history—the maintaining of high cash reserves, heavy investment in advertising and following policies that encourage goodwill—Wrigley suffered little during the Depression. In 1933, Philip increased workers’ wages by 25 percent, and, the following year, announced a $1million employees’ “assurance” plan that would pay personnel 60 to 80 percent of their working wage should they be laid off.
With characteristic flair for public relations, combined with a generous spirit, the Wrigleys delighted the South during the Depression by announcing they would invest up to $12 million from southern gum sales in cotton, and they increased Wrigley sales in Canada when they bought quantities of the country’s wheat in a depressed market.
Geena Davis starred in the 1992 film A League of Their Own, inspired by Phil Wrigley’s wartime All-American Girls Baseball League.
To keep fans interested in baseball during the 1940s, when able-bodied men were fighting in World War II, Phil established the All-American Girls Baseball League. The teams developed a following that lasted a dozen years.
While Phil’s wife, Helen, was attending the Cathedral of St. Mary High School in Garden City, New York, she and another student, Clare Boothe, formed a close friendship. The two women remained intimates throughout Clare’s marriage to Henry R. “Harry” Luce, co-creator of the Time-Life Magazine Empire. Therefore, following her widowhood, Clare often visited Phil and Helen in Chicago.
Clare Boothe Luce.
Clare was also a longtime friend of other prominent Chicagoans. In 1944, the late Norman Ross had become engaged to her only child, Ann Clare Brokaw. A few hours after Norman’s proposal, the girl had died in a freak automobile accident, and, through the following decades, Ross remained close to Clare and thus to the Wrigleys.
In a 1986 conversation, Norman discussed the friendship, which also included the William Wood-Princes. “There is a circle of us in Chicago with whom (Clare) has kept in close touch. She always stayed with the Wrigleys over at 1500 Lake Shore Drive when she was here. They kept a room for her there, and we called it ‘Clare’s Room.’ She does the same thing now with Billy and Eleanor Wood-Prince up in Lake View. Anyway, when she was in town, the Wrigleys or the Wood-Princes or I would give a party for her.
“Once, eight of us took a trip through France on the Wood-Princes’ barge, and I was Clare’s escort. It was a wonderful trip. She relaxed and talked about her mother and her brother, both of whom she adored, and of Harry.
“One of the great influences on Clare and Harry, particularly, was Winston Churchill. I remember she has a wonderful Churchill imitation. You would shut your eyes and think you were with Churchill. She told an anecdote on the barge—I wish I had a recording because you’d have made an LP of it.”
Phil and Helen Wrigley enjoyed almost 60 years of idyllic marriage during which she participated wholeheartedly in his interests. Phil owned a series of boats, and she was always the cook, prompting her to laugh that she never saw a port because she was cooking dinner when the boat docked in the evening and preparing breakfast when it left in the morning. When he became interested in breeding Arabian horses, so did she. Together they not only bred elegant show horses but also were the first to train Arabians to be working horses as well.
Phil at the Wrigley ranch on Santa Catalina Island in 1945. He and Helen were enthusiastic about breeding Arabians and were the first American breeders to train them as working horses.
Helen was devoted to support of the Chicago Historical Society (now the Chicago History Museum), Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Field Museum and the Lake Geneva Garden Club. Phil pitched in to support the last by making 25 pounds of fudge each year for sale at the club’s benefit.
Phil Wrigley in the process of concocting fudge to be sold to benefit the Lake Geneva Garden Club.
The Philip Wrigleys were parents of a son, William—known as Bill—born early 1933, and two daughters, Ada Blanche and Dorothy.
Phil with his daughters on Arabians in 1937.
Phil and Helen’s son, Bill, was made head of the chewing gum company at age 28 in 1961. Like his father, an unassuming and withdrawn man, he would take his position seriously, guiding the business through an eroding market share in the 1970s.
As happens so frequently with extraordinarily close couples, Helen and Phil Wrigley died within two months of each other in 1977, and, four years later, their heirs sold the Chicago Cubs to the Tribune Company for $20.5 million to pay estate taxes.
When a fellow member of the Tavern Club was traveling in Romania in the 1990s, he brought back a pack of Wrigley’s Spearmint he had purchased in a little shop in Constanta and presented it to Bill as a lark. But the Wrigley president, who was grateful to have this sample directly from the Romanian market, took the gum back to a lab to have it tested for authenticity.
Bill Wrigley, 1933–1999.
Bill Wrigley, who was married three times, lived in a Lake Shore Drive apartment and maintained an estate in Lake Geneva. When he died of pneumonia at 66 in 1999, he held 25 percent of the company’s stock. The $81 million Bill inherited from his father in 1977 had grown to more than $2.7 billion, and he was ranked 64th in the 1998 Forbes survey of the 400 richest Americans. Although a Yale graduate, he donated $15 million to the University of Southern California to establish the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.
His final marriage to Julie, a petite, outgoing lawyer, horsewoman and effective volunteer fund-raiser for Northwestern Memorial Hospital, ended acrimoniously; they were divorcing at the time of his death.
The name of the 21st century executive chairman of the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. is once again the same as that of his great grandfather and company founder: William Wrigley Jr.
Megan McKinney’s Classic Chicago series, The Wrigleys of Wrigley City, concludes with this issue.
Robert F. Carl