The tradition of including baseball cards with sticks of chewing gum began in the late 1880s when American Tobacco Company started including small cardboard ballplayer photos inserted randomly into packs of cigarettes and tobacco products to help promote and market their brands. It was in the late 19th century when the practice truly took off. In 1888, the company decided to try including full-size ballplayer cards in several brands of gum including Cabinet Gum and Rainbow Striped Gum. This proved successful and helped boost gum sales, so the card insert became a standard practice.

In the early 1900s, most major chewing gum manufacturers included baseball cards as incentives. Brands like Topps, Bowman, Fleer and other smaller regional gum makers began cranking out sets featuring the latest stars of the day. Typically, a stick of gum would come individually wrapped with one or sometimes two random baseball cards stuck to the wrapper. Collecting full sets required buying many packs of gum on the off chance you got that one missing card to complete it. The cards themselves during this era featured black and white or sepia tone photos with basic player stats and positions printed on the back.

In 1909, American Caramel Company debuted the iconic T206 baseball card set, considered one of the most desirable of all time for collectors today. Produced between 1909-1911, these high-quality lithographed cards came one per pack in Caramel Cub Fatima Turkish blend cigarettes and Sweet Caporal cigarette brands. The elaborate designs and rarity of certain players like the Honus Wagner card have made high graded T206s some of the most expensive collectibles in the hobby.


During the 1950s, the golden age of baseball card collecting took off as kids across America pursued the flashy new cards found in bubble gum. Topps Chewing Gum took over the baseball card market in postwar 1950 and had the exclusive rights to produce them each year. Their annual sets became hugely popular amongst kids and included color photos, career stats and biographies on the back of each. Aside from Topps, the Bowman and Fleer gum companies also released competitive, yet more limited runs sold nationwide. Favorite Topps series from this period were the iconic 1952 and 1959 issues, known for their simple colorful designs and great rosters of retired and active players.

In the 1960s, Topps continued their annual releases but also experimented with oddball sets featuring action photos, managers or team sets in addition to the standard rookie card releases. From 1966-1968, the rival Fleer company gained rights to produce a competing set sold nationwide each year known for their unusual glossy finish. Bowman also reemerged after a decade away with their 1968 “blue background” set featuring first-year cards of future Hall of Famers like Reggie Jackson. Through the decade, the cards grew flashier with artistic action shots, purple/blue borders and yellow/orange color schemes that embodied the psychedelic era. Kid collectors could still find a pack with a stick of Topps, Fleer or Bowman gum inside store shelves or vending machines.


The 1970s saw the rise of the mega stars as collecting entered a true Golden Age of popularity. Each year, Topps cranked out larger color photo rookies of future household names like George Brett, Nolan Ryan, and Johnny Bench. The 1971 Topps design with dark blue borders and gold stamping became an instant classic. Competition remained fierce as Fleer released innovative sets using oddball materials like wide-vision cardboard or sandwiched cards. The 1976 SSPC set stood out for pioneering the concept of limited parallels short printed within the base set. The popularity and increases in print runs began straining supplies, causing the relationship between cards and gum inserts to diminish.

By the early 1980s, the connection between baseball gum and cards formally ended at card companies could no longer include gum inserts due to rises in production costs, lucrative TV advertising deals and collectability that increased chase factors across multiple parallel releases each year. The tradition did live on as collectors still thought nostalgically of a simpler time rummaging through piles of foil-wrapped cards and gum searching eagerly for their next big rookie addition to their collections. While buying loose packs or boxes became the norm, the fabled pairing of penny stick of gum alongside a slick cardboard ballplayer photo persisted heavily in childhood baseball card memories for generations right up to today.


For over 60 years stretching from the late 1800s through the 1970s, children across America grew up with the fond ritual each summer of scouring drug stores and supermarkets for their favorite brands of baseball trading cards – typically Topps, Fleer and Bowman – all of which inserted the thin cardboard collectibles randomly among sticks of bubble gum hidden in foil packaging. This promoted both the cardboard photo hobby and gum sales, fueling a multi-generational tradition now engrained deeply in American pop culture and the roots of modern sports memorabilia collecting. Even today, the nostalgic pairing remains vivid in the memories of millions who can still taste that childhood gum when thinking back to their worn collection of faded cardboard ballplayers from another era.

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