The iconic connection between baseball cards and bubble gum dates back to the late 1930s when the Topps Chewing Gum Company began packaging their popular gum with collectible cards featuring professional baseball players. This innovative marketing strategy was a huge success and helped establish Topps as the dominant force in the sports card industry for much of the 20th century.

Topps was founded in 1938 by brothers Israel and Lazarus “Les” Goodman as a chewing gum manufacturer based in Brooklyn, New York. In the early days, Topps focused mainly on producing bubble gum products like Bazooka Joe comic strips and candy cigarettes. During this time, chewing gum companies were constantly looking for new promotional ideas to attract customers, especially children. Some competitors had experimented with including tobacco cards or non-sports related images with their gum but were looking for something more exciting.

In 1948, Topps seized on the emerging popularity of Major League Baseball by making a deal with the players association to use professional baseball players’ names and photos on small collectible cards inserted randomly into packs of their bubble gum. This was the very first set dedicated entirely to current major league players. Called the “Magic Photos Gum” series, the inaugural 1948 set featured a total of 101 cards featuring both the American and National Leagues.

The combination of baseball cards and gum was an immediate hit with young collectors. It allowed Topps to leverage two affordable indulgences, collectible cards and chewing gum, into one hugely popular packaged product. Kids could enjoy chewing the gum while eagerly searching packs for their favorite players or trying to complete the full set. The cards themselves were small, about 2 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches in size, which allowed Topps to include multiple cards in a pack of gum at low production cost.


Over subsequent years, Topps refined and expanded their baseball card lineup. They increased the number of cards per set, added player statistics and biographical information on the back of cards, and incorporated bigger rookie cards, stars, and all-stars into the mix to ramp up collector interest. Topps was aggressive in securing exclusive player contracts from both major leagues, helping them build brand loyalty and shut out competitors. By the mid-1950s they owned over 90% of the burgeoning baseball card market through sharp dealmaking and timing.

The golden age of baseball cards is generally considered to be the 1960s, when the hobby truly exploded across America. An entire generation of Baby Boomers got hooked on collecting cards of their favorite heroes like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax. Topps leveraged the sports card craze to expand into other licences like NFL, NHL and non-sports properties. At the peak of their popularity in the late 60s, Topps was producing over 500 million card packs annually across all their sets. Distribution widened beyond corner stores to mass retailers like supermarkets.

While some challengers like Fleer tried entering the baseball card space, none were ever able to seriously threaten Topps during this dominant period. Their exclusive contracts with the Major League Baseball Players Association were nearly impossible barriers to overcome. Topps standardized the design of their sets, including logos, layout, card stock and the tradition of including statistics and fun facts on the back of each card which further ingrained them with collectors. Many vintage Topps sets from this “golden age” are now considered some of the most iconic and valuable in the entire hobby.


The arrangement between Topps and MLB endured for decades until 1989, when rival company Fleer was finally able to break through Topps’ ironclad monopoly by convincing a United States district court to terminate Topps’ exclusive license on antitrust grounds. This opened the floodgates for Fleer, Score, Leaf, and other competitors to enter the baseball card market. Suddenly consumers had a much wider variety of sets to collect beyond Topps for the first time in over 40 years.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the sports card market saw drastic changes as the industry consolidated. The introduction of serial numbered “parallels” and non-base short print cards accelerated chasing strategies among collectors. The rise of online retailers also made it much easier for resellers to purchase and break open cases of unopened wax packs en masse, massively increasing the influx of raw cards into the market. Coupled with non-sports related trading card busts like Pokémon in the late 90s, overall interest in traditional card collecting waned among younger generations.

To keep up, Topps launched innovative premium products like autographed memorabilia cards, targeted subsets and adopted flashy chromium and refractor parallels to compete. In the 2000s they even began offering hits like game-used jersey cards with scientific verifiable authentication technology. The sports card collecting boom of the 1980s was clearly over as an oversupplied market caused overall price values to deflate significantly compared to vintage ‘50s/‘60s era cards.


Topps has continued producing their flagship baseball wax packs annually since 1948 right up to today, through various company ownership changes. While no longer the iconic mass media phenomenon it once was in the 1960s, the tradition of young collectors enjoying bubbling chewing gum alongside flipping through packs for stars, rookies and chase cards lives on. For millions of baby boomers and Gen Xers, Topps baseball cards remain forever linked to nostalgic memories of summers past spent collecting with friends outdoors in their neighborhood.

In summary, Topps’ innovative pairing of collectible baseball cards inside packs of bubble gum in the late 1940s tapped into an enduring formula that helped ignite the entire sports card collecting craze. Their exclusive license with Major League Baseball brought kids and fans alike a never-ending array of new cardboard heroes to enjoy. Through strategic expansion, savvy marketing and an exclusive dominance that endured for decades, Topps became a household name practically synonymous with the golden age of baseball cards in the 1960s. Their flagship brand remains an iconic part of American pop culture and nostalgia to this day.

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