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Once upon a time in America

Once upon a time in America By Mark Sheppard

Edmund Wrigley of Broadhead, Saddleworth married Jane Mills of Wood, Saddleworth in August 1792, and went on to reside at Knowl, Delph.wrigley-cottage-knowl-delph

One of his children Edward, who was born in 1805, became a woollen clothier and having seen the demise of younger brother Ben’s business, he decided to embark for a new life in America. 

Having set sail from Liverpool on board the ship ‘York’ he arrived in New York on the 13th August 1827. He then made his way to Philadelphia, and it was there he married Susan Paxson in 1831.

Whilst in Philadelphia, he became a successful woollen merchant, and where he later owned a factory called the ‘Good Intent’. His son William Mills Wrigley was born in Philadelphia on the north side of Vine Street above Tenth, on 7th November 1833. He was the son of Edward Wrigley, originally from Saddleworth and was one of the pioneer cloth manufacturers of Philadelphia. Interestingly his middle name, Mills, is taken from his Grandmother of Delph. 

william-wrigley-jnrHis son William Wrigley Jnr was born in 1861, the eldest of five children who became an Industrialist entrepreneur. The Philadelphia born youngster was put to work in his father’s soap factory doing menial labour after being expelled from grammar school. At age 13, he left home and sold his father’s soap door-to-door from a two-horse wagon in rural Pennsylvania, New York and New England. 

After years of giving away free gum with purchases of soap and realising that gum was the customers’ preference, he went into the gum manufacturing in Chicago in 1892, a year after his arrival there. The following year ‘Juicy Fruit’ was introduced in 1893. Then in 1894, ‘Spearmint’ arrived, and later went on sale in Britain in 1911. In 1914, ‘Doublemint’ went on sale for the first time.

He acquired a share of Chicago’s Cubs National League Baseball Team in 1916 ( the gangster Al Capone often visited Wrigley Field where the Cubs played) followed in 1919 with the purchase of 90 per cent of Catalina Island (Interestingly it was here the actress Natalie Wood drowned in 1981) and was instrumental in the development of the island until his death. 

avalon-casinoThe infrastructure of the public-owned area of Catalina, known as Avalon, was developed using his own money to construct water and electrical utilities, as well as a sewer system. He then erected hotels while building the world’s largest dance hall, the Avalon Grand Casino. Wrigley brought the world to Catalina with the construction of a boat harbour and docking facilities for his own series of steamship’s, the most remembered the SS Avalon and SS Catalina. 

In 1928, he built the Bird Park which had thousands of exotic birds on display, and in 1929, the ultimate Casino opened which had a theatre and Ballroom. He developed the Island economic base providing for the employment of locals in the form of Catalina Clay Products, which provided pavers and roofing tile, pottery and dinnerware. He also added a foundry and furniture factory along with full-scale mining for silver, lead and zinc. 

His promotions resulted in widespread fame for the Island. The Wrigley Ocean Marathon and a world-class golf tournament staged on his own 18-hole golf course. He revolutionised baseball with spring training and brought the Cubs to Catalina. The practice field in Avalon had the exact dimensions of Wrigley Field in Chicago. Wrigley travelled on road trips with the team and rarely missed a home game. In 1975, the Wrigley family donated 88% of the Island to the Catalina Island Conservancy, whose mission is to preserve and restore Catalina to its natural state allowing most of the landmass to remain a natural wilderness. 

William Wrigley was interred in a marble crypt in 1934. The remains were moved during World War II to Forest Lawn Glendale Cemetery. The imposing structure and the empty companion crypts are still on the island but are now the centrepiece of the Wrigley Botanical Gardens. The garden was conceived by Wrigley’s widow, Ada, in 1935. It is an extended memorial to her husband and today encompasses thousands of rare and endangered desert plants on 35 acres. 

Wrigley Field, Chicago 

Home of the Chicago Cubs is the namesake of William Wrigley, Jr. However, Wrigley Field West, which was the home of the Pacific Coast League Los Angeles Angels, the Cub’s farm team, is long gone and was Wrigley-office-buildingdemolished.

Wrigley office building in Chicago

The famous Wrigley office building in Chicago located on Michigan Avenue is still one of the city’s most attractive buildings. The white terra-cotta structure is further enhanced by its nighttime lighting. Many books have been written about this remarkable building, which has been used in countless motion pictures and television programs.

The Wrigley’s renowned Avalon Casino is a landmark on Catalina Island and is still greeting island visitors. During its heyday, thousands danced to the music of the Big Bands…Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, and Glen Miller. The Italian Renaissance Wrigley Mansion located in Pasadena, California is still in use today. It is the headquarters for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association. The mansion is seen on worldwide television as it is the starting point of the Tournament of Roses Parade staged each year on New Years Day. 

The SS Catalina, the last steamer on the Island run, was salvaged from a sand bar in Mexico and is currently being restored. The unspoiled island created by Wrigley has literally been a second studio to filmmakers in Hollywood. It has served as the location for over 500 motion pictures, documentaries and commercials. Classics such as “Treasure Island” and “Mutiny on the Bounty” were filmed here. 14 bison were transported to the island to be used for a western movie and left there. Today, they have become a herd. 

Wrigley spent millions on advertisements for his gum, from catchy radio jingles, newspapers, magazines and billboards. None were as imposing as the gigantic fully-lit Wrigley sign at night that dazzled Broadway in New York City. Not bad for a grand-son whose grandfather came from Saddleworth and who later became a billionaire. Wrigley’s great-grandparents are buried at Delph Independent Chapel in Saddleworth. I’m sure you agree this is a story well worth chewing over, Once upon a time in America.

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