The Ford Gum & Machine Co.’s story begins 100 years ago in 1913. That’s when 20-year-old Ford S. Mason, a roofing salesman, was seeking a side business to supplement his income during the winter months.
He met a man who told him about the gumball business, which was relatively new in the early part of the century, and was intrigued.
So, he borrowed money that year to lease 102 machines and placed them in stores and shops in western New York State communities. He then spent the next few winters collecting the gumball pennies and restocking machines.
It only took a few winters for Mason to quit roofing all together and make gumballs his full-time profession.
"It was fun to try to figure out which locations would be the most productive," recalled Mason during a magazine interview years later.
However, it didn’t take long for Mason to discover that faulty machinery and bad tasting gum were plaguing the industry.
He knew that if he could give the customers their money’s worth — tasty gum and machines that actually gave them their gumball once their money was inserted — he could make his business successful.
And, it was Mason’s father W. N. Mason, a Baptist minister, who gave him advice that changed everything — make his own machines and “share your profits with God.” So he did.
Using his father’s design, and introducing his gumball vending machine in 1917, the Ford patented machine had one spring and a thick coil that was resistant to rust, which made the machines more reliable than what was currently in the market.
Mason created a transcontinental business empire with eventually more than 500,000 Ford manufactured vending machines perched on store counters and pipe pedestals in countless North American communities, each branded with a unique serial number.
Ford set up a nationwide system of operators to service the machines, and he shared his profits with his church and others.
On entering its100th anniversary year, Ford Gum claims to be the only company now making gumballs in the United States, a process first begun by a man who made gumballs his life’s work.
In 1970, Ford Mason sold his company and retired to Florida but he would return each summer to Akron, N.Y. where he would visit the plant and its workers. Mason passed away in 1989 at the age of 95. He was a pioneer in bulk vending and his legacy lives on.
A century after this roofer decided to spend his winters servicing gumball machines, the company he built celebrates 100 years of adapting to marketplace changes and remains a leader in the gum and bulk vending industries.
“As we celebrate the company’s 100-year history while also beginning the next chapter of business, Ford Gum will continue to build upon its past with an eye on how it will adapt to the future, just as it’s always done,” says George Stege, president of the company. “It’s the very reason Ford Gum has remained a consistent and successful company in the gum and vending industries.”
While those iconic Ford vending machines may no longer be seen in stores today, Ford Gum & Machine Co. remains a leader in the manufacture and distribution of gumballs, gumball machine banks and assorted confections and health-related products for leading American brands. In addition, Ford also offers bulk gum products and machines for the bulk vending industry.
In honor of reaching the 100-year milestone, Ford Gum is sponsoring a series of events and special programs throughout the year. This winter, the details of a 100th Anniversary Broker Awards program will be revealed; the company’s Sweets & Snacks Expo booth theme in May 2013 will be its 100th anniversary with a special event to be announced before the show for those visiting the booth; and later in the summer, Ford Gum will host an anniversary celebration at the corporate headquarters in Akron, N.Y. for employees, brokers and special friends of the company.
“It’s a highlight of my career to be able to celebrate such a milestone anniversary,” adds Stege. “I’ve been with the company for more than 30 years and its history is my history, it’s our employee’s history, our brokers and customers’ history. And for all of the children (now grandparents) who put their pennies in those gumball machines long ago, it’s their history as well.”
In 1985, Ford Gum was acquired by Leaf, Inc. – which also acquired bulk vending company Carousel in the early 1990s -- and then in 1996, Leaf’s North American operations were purchased by Hershey Holdings. In 1997, a management buyout of Ford Gum and Carousel created a marriage that allowed Ford Gum & Machine Co. to adapt to yet another change in the market through their broker system; Ford Gum’s first step into retail sales.
Ford Gum continues to focus on its expansion in the retail market, focusing on product line extensions for its key brands: Carousel, Big League Chew and Smarties, with new flavors and packaging sizes and styles.
Ford will also expand its flavor profiles and brand offerings including new exciting introductions to the gum category in 2013. In private label, Ford Gum continues product development, emphasizing its contract manufacturing capabilities in proprietary gum formulations for dental health, teeth whitening, energy, diet, smoking cessation and other value-added products.
Be sure to check out Candy Industry's comprehensive profile about Ford Gum in the January 2013 issue.