Americans knew food shortages during the 1940s.
World War II meant reduced inventories of butter, meat and other products. Adults became accustomed to reduced liquor cabinets; kids stewed over fewer wads of bubble gum.
According to the Fleer Corp., one of the largest producers of bubble gum and trading cards in the U.S., shortages of jelutong latex (an Asian gum needed for the manufacture of bubble gum) forced Fleer and other bubble gum producers to halt production during the war.
After hostilities ended in 1945, the gum shortages continued. Fleer historians say black-market prices for pink stuff went into effect — a penny piece of Fleer’s Dubble Bubble often sold for as much as $1.
When storekeepers received shipments of gum for their store shelves, word spread fast. In June 1946, Schenectady kids learned their favorite masticatory delight was in stock at Saul Stern’s grocery store at 132 N. College St. and at John Nelarico’s Piggly Wiggly store at 2627 Broadway.
Nelarico and Stern didn’t need juvenile riots, so they planned ahead. In early June, Nelarico had been overrun with kids searching for the young person’s version of wartime letters of transit. John gave them all the brush, and told them he would place his shipment on sale Monday, June 17. The kids lined up with their nickels and dimes, and lucky ones purchased small stashes before the Pig Wig sold out.
Stern took a more thoughtful approach. He printed 325 ration cards and distributed them to students at the city’s Riverside elementary school —using the principal and teachers as his agents. On Tuesday, June 18, card holders assembled in front of the store at 3 p.m. and began to chant, “We want bubble gum!”
Stern delivered the goods at 3:15 p.m., admitting three young customers to his store at a time. By 3:53 p.m., the chews were through — Stern was out of inventory.
Kids blue over the loss of pink had one consolation, and a savior in Mr. Peanut: A new Planters Peanuts store had just opened at 232 State St. (moving from another location at 406 State) and could supply crunchy diversions for a great price — 75 cents for 3 pounds of peanuts.
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Categories: Life and Arts