Pop! The Invention Of Bubble Gum, by Meghan McCarthy
This book manages to serve a few tasks. For one, it introduces its readers (not all of whom are likely to be young, although many of them will be) to the invention of bubble gum, and for another it manages to provide the context of chewing gum and the trial and error process of scientific experimentation. The book also provides something of a corporate history that demonstrates the importance of product development for the survival of at least some kinds of companies. I am reminded of the response of people when the company that made Twinkies went out of business and there was a rush for some people to hoard the snack until the recipe and trademark for that particular snack was sold to another company. The same sort of thing happened to Double Bubble, the original bubble gum, a fact which is alluded to in this book, which merely states that the invention of bubble gum allowed the Fleer company to stay in business for another 70 years or so after its invention, implying that the company was no longer a going concern. As it happens, Tootsie Roll owns the rights to Double Bubble, which is still going strong and still an enjoyable bubble gum.
This book, though, is less a corporate history than a look at how a mild-mannered accountant become a noted inventor. Our story begins with a family owned business named Fleer that is having some financial trouble but which makes candy and chewing gum in the Philadelphia area. The chance arrival of a research lab next to Walter Diemer’s office and his own curiosity lead him over the course of a few months to first create a bubble gum that works but quickly gets too hard and then, with the addition of some secret ingredients and pink food coloring, becomes a massively popular item that instantly makes the company far more profitable. The author demonstrates how Diemer did not become wealthy off of his invention, because he did it for the company, but managed to parlay his creative genius into a position as an executive within the company who likely had little financial trouble despite the loss of intellectual property rights for working within a company. The book ends with a discussion of the historical sources and context of chewing gum and bubble gum, the former of which has a history which goes back deep into ancient history.
There are at least a few obvious lessons that a young (or not-so-young) reader can take from this drawing, which is gorgeously drawn as the author manages to do in general. For one, the author realistically portrays creativity as involving a lot of hard work and experimentation. For another, the author portrays creativity as something that is within the reach of anyone who has sufficient persistence and imagination, something that will likely encourage many people who are not necessarily thought of as being creative. After all, financial bean counters are not viewed as creative types, and yet a young accountant invented bubble gum. If he can do that, then certainly such creativity can be found among others. We are often all too quick to take for granted people who work in jobs that we consider boring and fail to consider just how inventive and creative as people they may be, and that is a lesson this book seeks to counteract. The author also demonstrates that successful creativity can be the difference between a company’s survival and failure, a reminder of the high-stakes nature of research and development in the corporate world.