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The tradition of including small pieces of bubble gum in baseball card packs began in the late 1930s and lasted for several decades, but the inclusion of gum eventually ended in the late 1980s/early 1990s as the baseball card industry changed dramatically. There were several factors that led to the demise of bubble gum in cards.

In the late 1930s, the American Chicle Company, which was a leading gum manufacturer, began including baseball cards as a promotion for its Bubble Gum brand. This helped drive sales of both the gum and cards. In the post-World War II era, the baseball card market boomed in popularity among children and collectors alike. Most major gum and card manufacturers of the time, such as Topps, Fleer, and Bowman followed the model of including ball cards and small pieces of gum together in wax-wrapped packs that sold for a low price, typically around a nickel or dime. This became the standard promotional model for the baseball card industry for several decades through the 1950s-1980s peak of the card collecting hobby.

Signs that the inclusion of gum was coming to an end started emerging in the late 1980s. One major factor was the decline of the traditional baseball card companies as the industry consolidated. Topps had dominated the baseball card market for years but faced new competition from larger entertainment corporations that got into the baseball card business, such as Fleer (owned by Phillies owner Roly DeLyon) and later Donruss and Upper Deck. Larger and more marketing-savvy entertainment conglomerates like The Walt Disney Company and Marvel Entertainment began acquiring traditional card companies. This led to business model experimentation as the large corporates sought higher profits than the traditional model could provide.

Another major issue was the rising costs and liability associated with including gum with cards. Food production requires strict guidelines and quality control which increased packaging and manufacturing costs. There was also the risk of potential lawsuits if children choked on gum or got cavities from excessive gum chewing while collecting and trading cards. In an increasingly litigious environment, the gum inclusion opened card makers up to potential liability. Some manufacturers like Fleer had already stopped including gum in the late 1980s over these food safety concerns.

At the same time, the baseball card market was peaking in the late 1980s. Overproduction led to a spectacular crash in the early 1990s as the speculative bubble of skyrocketing rare card values abruptly deflated. With falling profit margins in this down market, card companies sought to cut costs wherever possible. The inclusion of gum was an obvious place to reduce expenses. Without the promotional need to drive gum sales either, the tie-in became less necessary from a business perspective.

In 1991, industry leader Topps ended the tradition when it discontinued including gum with its baseball cards due to profit pressures. Other manufacturers soon followed suit. While some smaller regional brands held onto the gum inclusion for a short time more, the baseball card industry transitioned to a non-edible model. This brought an end to an era where children could simultaneously enjoy chewing bubble gum and sorting through their newest baseball cards acquired from the corner store. Instead, cards would now be sold sans gum in thicker plastic packaging designed for storage and protection of the card collection within. This marked a symbolic end of an innocent time for a generation of baseball card collectors.

Changing economics, industry consolidation, increased costs and liabilities, coupled with the early 1990s baseball card crash were the factors that led card manufacturers to drop the time-honored tradition of including small pieces of bubble gum within baseball card packs. It brought closure to an iconic promotional model that had successfully driven the growth of the baseball card hobby for decades. While the inclusion of gum was a fond memory for many collectors, it became an unnecessary inclusion as the industry professionalized and modernized operations in the early 1990s’ changing marketplace.


The tradition of inserting gum into baseball card packs began in the late 1880s when American Tobacco Company started including small pieces of chewing gum with cigarette cards as both a marketing strategy and to entice children to collect the cards. This proved very successful at driving sales of their tobacco products and the practice soon spread to other confectionery companies that produced things like bubble gum and candy. By the 1930s, nearly every trading card product aimed at kids contained a stick of gum.

Through the mid-20th century, Topps Chewing Gum Company dominated the baseball card market and perfected the concept of bundling gum with cardboard trading cards in waxed paper packs. This made them wildly collectible for children who enjoyed not just acquiring and trading the new cards but also chewing the gum rewards inside each pack. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Topps released new complete sets annually that could be found in corner stores, pharmacies, and any other shop that carried chewing gum and candy items.

While demand was huge during the post-World War II era, concern was growing among parents, schools, health experts and legislators about marketing unhealthy junk foods directly to children. In the late 1970s, public attitudes began shifting towards promoting nutrition and wellness over sugar-filled snacks. One outcome of this was that in 1978, the U.S. government banned TV advertising of sugary cereals and candies during Saturday morning cartoon shows – a major avenue companies had used to reach kids.

Facing this increasing regulatory pressure as well as concerns about potential litigation over marketing high-sugar products to minors, Topps made the decision to phase gum out of baseball cards starting with their 1980 release. While still including it that year, they moved production to India where labor was cheaper in 1981 which prevented the gum from being included due to import regulations. Fans likely did not notice the subtle change at first.

By 1982 however, Topps omitted gum entirely from packs in favor of enclosed stickers instead. They cited the higher production costs of manufacturing and shipping gum-filled cardboard packs internationally as the primary reason. It was clear the business environment regarding child-targeted food marketing had substantially changed as well. Their competitors like Fleer and Donruss soon followed suit in ditching gum, marking the definitive end of an era.

While some nostalgic collectors lamented the loss of the chewing gum bonuses, it did not negatively impact sales and allowed card makers to keep prices low despite inflation. Through the 1980s and 90s, the tradition of including extra in-pack prizes like traded player stats or mini posters emerged instead to maintain excitement around the random assortment received in each pack. Gum inserts were phased out across other non-sports card confections as well.

In today’s marketplace, Topps and other modern card producers have found innovative new ways to entice collectors like insert cards, autographs and relic memorabilia without relying on sugary incentives. Meanwhile baseball card values have skyrocketed, reaching millions for rare vintage specimens. So while collecting is no longer paired with chewing gum rewards, the hobby remains intensely popular generations later thanks to its nostalgia and deep baseball history and memorabilia. That tradition of bundling with confections may be gone for good, but the appeal of amassing complete baseball card sets endures.


Putting baseball cards in bicycle spokes is a classic childhood prank and pastime that has been enjoyed by generations of young boys. While often seen as just silly fun, this old tradition is actually rooted in both practical bike maintenance techniques as well as reflective of broader societal trends from the mid-20th century.

The genesis of this practice can likely be traced back to the post-World War II era when baseball card collecting and youth bicycling were both experiencing tremendous growth in popularity across America. During this time, production of baseball cards skyrocketed as did the emerging sport of bicycle motocross (or BMX) racing which emphasize flashy, attention-grabbing tricks and stunts on custom chopper-style bikes.

It was within this context that experimentally minded youngsters began wedging souvenir baseball cards into the spokes of their wheels to create eye-catching visual effects and bizarre sounds while riding. The flapping and slapping of the cards against the metal produced a distinctive noise that undoubtedly caught the attention of peers. For children in predominantly car-centric suburbs, decorating bikes in novel ways also helped assert individual expression and rebellion against the conformist rules of typically conservative postwar communities.

But beyond just being a source of amusement, inserting baseball cards or other thin materials like newspaper into bicycle spokes also served practical bicycle maintenance purposes. As the paper wedged into the laced wheel caused intermittent vibrations and friction within the metal components, it helped identify needs for timely tightening or readjustments. Loose or improperly tensioned spokes could potentially lead to dangerous wobbling or wheel failures at high speeds. So engaging in this supposedly frivolous hobby actually reinforced valuable bike safety skills.

As the postwar era gave way to the counterculture revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, putting cards in one’s spokes took on added symbolic significance. For rebellious teenagers, personalizing their rides through edgy customization projects represented a statement of nonconformity and independence from parental authority figures. Altering mass produced bikes into loud, attention-grabbing machines paralleled the rise of protopunk aesthetics emphasizing crude individualism over mainstream tastes. In essence, decorating bicycles in unconventional ways mirrored broader adolescent desires to challenge social conventions through bold self-expression.

The ubiquitous popularity of baseball cards themselves also helped propel this trend. With millions being inserted into gum, cereal boxes and candy across America each year, discarding or modifying cards was virtually inconsequential. Their flimsy paper stock and small size made them ideal for fitting into narrow confines between fast spinning metal spokes. And because baseball represented hallowed tradition within family-oriented postwar suburbia, sabotaging cards almost carried an added rebellious thrill.

By the 1970s and 80s, modifying bicycles through the addition of neon paint jobs, flashy accessories and baseball cards in spokes had fully evolved into an integral part of BMX culture. Professional competitions emphasized fluid riding skills as well as spectacular stuntwork performed on personalized choppers. Corporate sponsorships from bike and sports brands further fueled interest in radical customizing projects amongst keen young fans. Putting cards in one’s wheels remained a rite of passage that helped cement membership within tight-knit neighborhood bike gangs.

The dangers of this activity should not be understated. Loose objects wedged near rapidly spinning bicycle components present clear safety hazards. Flying baseball cards, loosened spokes or unexpected wobbles all risked throwing young riders and distracting motorists. Some communities and schools eventually banned the practice outright due to liability concerns over potential injuries. And with greater urbanization reducing opportunities for unfettered street riding by the 1990s, engaging in stunt-focused hobbies like BMX also declined in mainstream popularity.

While unlikely to ever fully disappear, inserting baseball cards into bicycle wheels has thankfully diminished significantly as a widespread youth pastime over the decades. Yet nostalgically, the simple novelty and tactile joys of modifying one’s ride through this peculiar modification still captures the imaginations of millions who came of age during bikes’ golden era. In retrospect, it served as a harmless outlet for adolescent experimentation, skill-building and rebellion against conformity – just as the postwar era intended. Ultimately, putting baseball cards in your spokes represented both a practical approach to vehicle maintenance and a symbolic gesture of individual self-expression within rigidly-structured communities.