Wrigley’s chewing gum, Walt Disney and McDonald's – three
things I’ve always regarded as all-American. What I’ve never realized until
recently is they are also all-Chicagoan.
The gum I hit upon soon after our arrival, a big clue being the
fact the name Wrigley kept cropping up around our new hometown. As in Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue, Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago
Cubs baseball team, and the Wrigley Mansion, home to well, I’m not sure whom
but a very nice one at any rate, on Lincoln Park.
What I soon after discovered is that Mr Wrigley was not
originally Mr Gum. His first loves were scouring soap and baking powder. But
obviously there was much competition amongst purveyors of baking powder back in
the 1890s so Wrigley started giving away sticks of the sticky stuff as an added
stick. And it stuck.
Not only did Wrigley introduce us to Doublemint, but also to
the idea of a double day of rest at the end of the week. For he was one of the
first employers to give his factory workers
both Saturday and Sunday off.
the company, is still looking out for us even today. A visit to wrigley.com saw
me clicking in the intriguing “Benefits of Chewing” link. There I discovered
how chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after food and drinks has been proven
to help protect your teeth.
Better still, chew instead of chow. And then you save the
calories but, thanks to Wrigley, you can still savour the flavor. Especially if
you choose any of the Extra Dessert Delights options such as Key Lime Pie, Mint
Chocolate Chip Ice Cream and Strawberry Shortcake.
I’m waiting to see if they take it a step further and
develop a hamburger variety. But that might be encroaching on the territory of
a certain Chicagoan corporate neighbour that also boasts a downtown landmark
building. Except that instead of the Wrigley Building’s ornate, soaring clock
tower, this one has 60-ft golden arches.
And seating for 300. And a two-lane drive–through.
I only discovered recently that McDonald’s has its corporate
headquarters in the Chicagoan suburb of
Oak Brook. But I should have been tipped off by the city's Thanksgiving Parade. Until
now this American tradition has been indelibly linked in my mind with the word “Macy’s”. But
whereas in the Big Apple, the parade was thanks to the owners of the big shop,
in the Big Onion
, it’s all down to the makers of the Big Mac.
McDonald's Corp's Chicago base is because the company's founder, Ray Kroc, was
born in Oak Brook. Again news to me but apparently the man who had the vision
to plant those Golden Arches across America and beyond did not own the chain’s
first burger bar in California (that was in fact owned by the McDonald
brothers). Kroc, a milkshake machine
salesman, visited the restaurant, saw the patty potential and entered into
business with the McDonald brothers, eventually buying out the exclusive rights
to the McDonald’s name. I suppose even he didn’t think McKroc’s sounded the
Reading about Kroc led me to discover my third, somewhat surprising, Chicago connection. When he was 15, Kroc lied about his age and joined the Red Cross during the First World War. At a training camp in Connecticut, he came across another Chicagoan who had done the same. In his autobiography, Kroc
noted this young chap never came out on the town with the rest of the
volunteers when they had time off. Instead he would stay in the camp drawing.
His name? Walt Disney.
Disney’s Chicagoan heritage may not be known to many but the
city is taking steps to correct this. Last
year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared December 5 – Disney’s birth date in 1901 – to
be Walt Disney Day. The same day, the new owners of the Disney family home where Walt was born announced their plans to restore the house to its original state and eventually open a small private museum.
The house was built by Walt's carpenter father Elias in 1893 while he was working on
the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Many believe that Elias’ stories about the
World Fair (which saw the creation of the Ferris wheel) helped inspire Walt
Disney's own Magic Kingdom in later life.
Come to think of it, modern day Chicago still has much that resembles Disneyland. A Main Street, a big lake, castles and towers like the Wrigley Building, rides like the Ferris Wheel on Navy Pier - and, of course, McDonald's!