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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bubble Gum Factory

http://ourhousestories.com/american-chicle-company-factory/

Our House Stories asked if we had any buildings that they could do research on and we asked about our beloved Bubble Gum Factory and this is their Wonderful Response about the American Chicle Company in New Orleans which had a surprisingly brief life .  The building was constructed in 1911. At its height, the company operated factories in 10 cities and proclaimed, "It is not unusual for shipments to be made to Siberia, Alaska, Hong Kong, and the Samoan Islands."

American Chicle Company Building at corner of Fig and Dante, New Orleans, Louisiana
In the fall of 1900, the American Chicle Company announced their intentions to establish a factory in either New Orleans or Atlanta. Wishing to take direct advantage of the opportunity, a cadre of New Orleans businessmen, sponsored by the Board of Trade, dispatched a letter to the New York chewing gum concern. A Board of Trade committee made the case for New Orleans, arguing not only for the economic and geographic advantages the city offered but stating as well,
"...the unequaled advantage of her mild climate, rendering the cost of living for laborers lower, since they need less clothing, less food and slighter dwellings than in more northern cities, and the further fact that real estate is very low...combine to make this an ideal point for the manufacture of your product" [Daily Picayune, October 11, 1900].
Advertisement for Adams Pepsin Gum, an American Chicle Company product, 1917.
Advertisement for Adams Pepsin Gum, an American Chicle Company product, 1917

The wheels of industry turned slowly, however.  Despite the glowing recommendation from the Board of Trade (read: "We'll do anything...and our workers will subsist on next to nothing"), the company focused its resources on other markets before securing the benefits of the port of New Orleans.  An ad from 1912 lists the locations of six factories the company had opened since its founding in 1899.  It seems that markets in the east and midwest captured the company's attention before the south.
Another decade passed before American Chicle secured a building permit for their 3-story New Orleans factory, built at an estimated cost of $50,000 [Daily Picayune, December 3, 1910].  The factory employed 300-400 people, a number that does not include the uncounted hundreds who contributed to chicle production - from the Mexican chicleros who harvested the raw chicle, to sailors, dock workers, and draymen in New Orleans who loaded, unloaded, and transported the chicle to the factory.  The operation culminated in New Orleans in the state-of-the-art factory pictured below.
Historic photo of the American Chicle Company, 3000 Dante Street, New Orleans.  The photo comes from a 1912 advertisement for the company, touting the opening of its successful New Orleans plant in 1911.
When the factory opened for business, the community boasted, "In the building this year of the factory of the American Chicle Company, on a block of ground at Fig and Dante Streets, above Carrollton Avenue, a large institution was added to the city.  The building itself is attractive and a point of interest" [Daily Picayune, September 1, 1911].

Factory Inspectors Past and Present. From left to right: Miss Ella Haas, State Factory Inspector, Dayton, O. Miss Mary Malone, State Inspector Ten-Hour Law, Delaware. Mrs. Florence Kelley, Chief State Factory Inspector of Illinois, 1893-97. Miss Jean Gordon, Factories Inspector, Parish of New Orleans, 1908. Miss Madge Nave, Factory Inspector, Louisville, Kentucky. Mrs. Martha D. Gould, Factories Inspector, Parish of New Orleans. Location: New Orleans, Louisiana.
Orleans Parish Factory Inspector Martha D. Gould stands at far right, March 1914. Image: KnowLa.org and LoC.gov.
 
 
The satisfaction of business leaders filtered slowly to the workers.  According to Martha D. Gould, Orleans Parish Factories Inspector, workers at the American Chicle factory could "enjoy the noon hour with a comfortable lunch and some diversion and recreation" in the company lunchroom [Daily Picayune, September 1, 1913].  Indeed, it seems Inspector Gould took a special interest in the lot of the women and young girls who worked at American Chicle.  In the year prior, Gould arranged a dance at the American Chicle Factory attended by workers of that company and the Consumer's Biscuit Company.  The "factory dance" was "the first of its kind ever given in New Orleans and perhaps in the South" [Daily Picayune, October 6, 1912].

Business declined rapidly for the American Chicle Company in New Orleans during the years following its initial successes.  In 1914, Sentaor W.H. Thompson of Kansas included the company in a list of "628 companies which...have wiped out 9877 original companies" [Daily Picayune, September 6, 1914].  The reversal of fortunes forced the company to sell its New Orleans factory.  In February 1918, the factory sold to the Marine Paint and Varnish Company for $100,000. The new owners prospered until 1959, when the company dissolved.   The factory building itself changed very little through the years.  With the succession of owners, the interior likely saw its share of renovations while the distinctive exterior remained relatively unchanged. The photographs below, from the Charles L. Frank and Frank-Bertacci Collection of the Louisiana Digital Library show the building in the 1930s and the 1950s.  Today the building is home to the Landis Construction Company.
 
 Photo of the Marine Paint & Varnish Company, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1930s. The building was built for the American Chicle Company in 1911.
Photo of the Marine Paint & Varnish Company, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1930s. The building was built for the American Chicle Company in 1911. Image from Louisiana Digital Libraries.
 
Photo of the Marine Paint & Varnish Company, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1950s. The building was built for the American Chicle Company in 1911. Image from Louisiana Digital Library.
Photo of the Marine Paint & Varnish Company, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1950s. The building was built for the American Chicle Company in 1911. Image from Louisiana Digital Library. Image from the Louisiana Digital Library Charles L. Franck and Frank-Bertacci Collection.
 
Photo of the Marine Paint & Varnish Company, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1950s. The building was built for the American Chicle Company in 1911.
Photo of the Marine Paint & Varnish Company, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1950s. The building was built for the American Chicle Company in 1911. Image from Louisiana Digital Library.
 

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