The tradition of baseball cards coming out of wax packs is an integral part of the sport’s history. Ever since the late 1800s, companies have been including small cardboard collectibles featuring baseball players inside sealed wax or paper packages as a promotional tool and money-maker. Over time, this simple concept evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry and childhood rite of passage for fans across North America.

The first true baseball cards resembling the modern format we know today were produced in the late 1880s by a tobacco manufacturer named Goodwin & Company. Their cigarette packs contained small promotional cards showing individual players from major league teams. It wasn’t until the 1890s that baseball cards started coming out of packs on a wide scale. In 1887, the American Tobacco Company began including baseball cards in packs of cigarettes and became the first company to mass produce them.

These early baseball cards came out of packs randomly, with no guaranteed players or teams in any given pack. Collectors would eagerly rip open wax paper envelopes hoping for stars or rare finds. The cards featured basic black and white images with no stats or biographical information. Still, they captured kids’ imaginations and sparked the beginning of a hobby. Throughout the early 20th century, dozens of tobacco brands like Fatima, Sweet Caporal and Old Mill issued baseball cards in their packs as ads for smokes.


The modern baseball card era began in 1909 when the American Tobacco Company launched its famous T206 set featuring color portraits of players. Distributed in packs of cigarettes and tobacco, these iconic cards included the first true rookie cards of legends like Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner. Their rarity and condition has made high-grade T206s the most valuable cards ever produced. In the following decades, other tobacco brands like Play Ball, Red Man and Star followed suit by randomly inserting baseball cards in packs as promotions.

During the 1930s-50s, the Topps Chewing Gum Company became the dominant force in the baseball card industry. They pioneered the pink slab design and started including stat lines and biographies on the back of cards. Topps cards came out of iconic rectangular wax packs that are still collected today. Excitement built as kids traded and searched packs, hoping for the stars of that season. The post-WWII era saw baseball cards reach new heights of popularity as a pastime for American children across all social classes.


In the late 1950s, the advent of bubble gum in card packs revolutionized the business model. Topps and other brands like Fleer started including a stick of bubble gum with each pack of cards to entice younger collectors. This strategic move helped baseball cards avoid increasing government regulations on tobacco advertising. It also broadened the collector base by appealing directly to kids. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, the tradition of opening wax packs and enjoying the gum inside became a rite of passage for generations of baseball fans.

The 1980s marked a renaissance period for the baseball card industry. New companies like Donruss and Score entered the market, increasing competition and innovation. Ultra-premium sets from Topps like the high-gloss 1987 issue sold for record prices. Ken Griffey Jr’s rookie card in the 1989 Upper Deck set, the first non-Topps/Donruss brand, shattered records and brought unprecedented media attention. The influx of collectors fueled the opening of hobby shops and card conventions nationwide.


In the 1990s, the baseball card boom turned into a speculative bubble. Overproduction of rare parallel and insert cards led to crashes in collector enthusiasm and card values. The rise of online selling also reduced foot traffic in brick-and-mortar shops. Opening packs is still a beloved tradition. Today, companies like Topps, Panini, Leaf and others continue randomly inserting autographed rookie cards, memorabilia cards and more in wax packs on release day.

For over 130 years, the simple concept of randomly inserting small collectibles inside sealed packages has fueled the growth of baseball fandom. The anticipation of not knowing what player or hit card may come out of the next wax pack keeps the hobby exciting for collectors young and old. Whether hunting for stars, building sets or chasing rare pulls, cracking packs will always be a special part of baseball card collecting lore. The tradition started in the late 1800s ensures this fun part of the sport’s history lives on.

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