Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

Originally designed to sell bubble gum, baseball cards were included in one-and-five cent packs of gum and became treasures to the millions of boys and girls who collected them in the mid-20th century. Kids traded them with their friends, played games with them like flipping, and even attached them to their bicycle wheels to mimic motorcycle sounds. A study conducted in the early 1960s showed that 89 percent of boys in the United States bought baseball cards.

In 1927 native Pennsylvanian Jacob Warren Bowman founded Gum Inc. and began producing bubble gum on Woodland Avenue in Philadelphia. Within two years Bowman’s Blony brand became the bestselling penny bubblegum in the country. Eddie Joost

Bowman produced its first trading cards in 1936 to help sell its bubble gum, first with a nonsports set titled G-Men and Heroes of the Law. Two years later the company released its groundbreaking and extremely popular Horrors of War cards. This set featured full-color graphic depictions of scenes from the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Spanish Civil War and the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. Eventually, a final series of this set was printed showing Nazi Germany as a nation of armed belligerents.

The great success of the Horrors of War set gave Bowman the impetus to jump next into the already developed baseball card market. Bowman produced popular Play Ball baseball cards in 1939, 1940 and 1941, but the series ended with America’s entry into World War II.

Production of national baseball cards issued with bubble gum was halted during the war because of the rationing of paper, cardboard and ink and the inability to cheaply import chicle to make gum. Bowman’s baseball card line would not be revived until 1948.

After the war, with the population increase of children in America as a result of the Baby Boom, bubble gum companies experienced a renaissance. Bowman brought back baseball cards, issuing them with their Blony gum every year from 1948 to 1955. The company also produced football and numerous nonsports cards during this period.Bobby Schantz

After years of litigation, Bowman was bought out in January 1956 by its chief competitor, the Topps Chewing Gum Company of New York. Topps went on to become the undisputed number one baseball card company and remains so today.

Held in the Pennsylvania State Archives (MG-8, Pennsylvania Collection), the two Bowman cards illustrating this article are from the 1951 baseball set, which contains 324 separate cards. The obverse of each card features an artist-colored photo reproduction of the player, and the reverse provides his baseball biography and physical characteristics. The 1951 series has the good fortune of including true rookie cards of popular baseball Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, which has helped maintain its standing as a very popular vintage set.

The cards shown here are of Philadelphia Athletics baseball players Eddie Joost and Bobby Shantz (misspelled “Schantz” on the card). Joost played short-stop for the Athletics from 1949 to 1954. Shantz was a left-handed pitcher who hurled for the Athletics from 1949 to 1956, winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1952. In that same year Shantz had a won-lost record of 24-7 with an earned run average of 2.48. The Athletics played in Philadelphia from 1901 through 1954, before moving to Kansas City for the 1955 season.

Richard C. Saylor is an archivist for the Pennsylvania State Archives and author of the national award-winning book Soldiers to Governors: Pennsylvania’s Civil War Veterans Who Became State Leaders.