Frank H. Mustin, 94, of Lansdowne, an executive of the Frank H. Fleer Corp., the company that produced the first commercially successful bubble gum, died Sunday, March 11, of a series of strokes at his home.
Mr. Mustin was a grandson of Frank Fleer, the Philadelphia entrepreneur who founded Fleer Corp. in 1885. Mr. Mustin’s father, Gilbert B. Mustin, married J. Alice Fleer, daughter of the founder.
Though the company started out making flavorings and Chiclets, by 1928 it had perfected a supple, stretchy chewing gum called Dubble Bubble.
The pink bubble gum had a tiny comic strip featuring a character named “Pud” placed inside the waxed wrapper. “That was part of the sales appeal,” said Mr. Mustin’s daughter, Emily Nicholson, “Little children wanted to read the comic.”
The gum was an instant hit with consumers. In the early 1940s, Americans were spending about $4.5 million annually on Dubble Bubble, according to a company history.
Though production stopped briefly during World War II because of sugar rationing, Fleer had the bubble gum market to itself until 1947, when Topps Co. came out with Bazooka bubble gum.
“There was an intense rivalry,” Nicholson said.
After the death of his father in 1948, Mr. Mustin became the director of the international branch of Fleer and Gilbert Jr., his brother, ran the national company.
Mr. Mustin established factories in West Germany and Spain, and partnerships in many parts of the world. After his brother retired in 1985, Mr. Mustin took on the management of the entire company and the popular Fleer baseball cards.
Fleer and Topps fought in court over control of the baseball-card market, and after many years of litigation reached an accord that allowed Fleer to produce the cards but not to package them with gum.
The cards were popular as collectibles and as trading items, especially among boys enjoying the baseball rites of spring.
Fleer produced its first Major League Baseball cards in 1981, and added football and basketball cards throughout that decade. By 1988, sales had climbed to a total of $51 million, but by then, Mr. Mustin and his brother, who was still on the company’s board of directors, had grown older. There were not enough younger family members involved in the business to warrant keeping it.
In 1989, when entrepreneur Paul Mullan approached them with a buyout offer, the brothers took it, said a corporate history.
“It was the Mustins’ desire to keep things low-profile,” Mullan told the Chicago Tribune in August 1989.
Mr. Mustin graduated in 1940 from Lansdowne Friends School and in 1944 from Swarthmore College with a bachelor of science degree in engineering. He served in the Navy for two years at the end of World War II.
He married Janet Stanley in 1945. The couple raised three daughters, first in Heidelberg, Germany, and then in Lansdowne.
Mr. Mustin enjoyed playing golf and skiing, and was an avid windsurfer into his 80s.
He and his wife were generous philanthropists. They gave to Lansdowne Friends, Friends Select School, and Swarthmore, all Quaker-based institutions of learning.
In 1990, the couple established the Mustin Fund for Scholarship to help needy families pay the Lansdowne Friends tuition.
“Frank and Janet Mustin were always very involved in the life of Lansdowne Friends School throughout their lives,” said head of school John McKinstry. “They established the Mustin Fund for Scholarship and have always shown leadership in our capital campaigns.
“Frank served faithfully for many years on the School Committee (which is what we call our board of trustees). As an alumnus of the school, and the parent and great-grandparent of LFS students, Frank was extraordinarily generous with the school and this has benefited generations of our students. He will be greatly missed.”
Mr. Mustin’s wife, a renowned artist, died in March 2016.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by daughters Virginia Mustin Gourlie and Sarah Mustin; eight grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
A visitation at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, March 17, will be followed by a 2:30 p.m. funeral service at West Laurel Hill Funeral Home, 225 Belmont Ave., Bala Cynwyd. Burial is private.