Topps: As American As Bubble Gum, Baseball Cards


There are few things more American than bubble gum and baseball cards.

This is something Topps, the nation’s leading manufacturer of Bazooka gum and sports cards, has known for more than 60 years.

“Very few brands are part of the DNA when you're growing up, and Topps is one of them,” said Ryan O’Hara, the company’s chief executive.

Topps was founded in 1938 by the Shorn brothers as a gum company. In 1952, the company introduced its now-iconic baseball cards.

“The company's been a pillar in America off the back of baseball cards ever since,” said O’Hara.

Topps executives recently made the tough decision to renew their lease in New York City’s Manhattan — a move that may cost more money, but also remains true to the company’s American roots.

“It’s very important to us,” said O’Hara of keeping the company’s headquarters in Manhattan.

“We decided that being an American company and being located in the heart of New York, where we've always been, made a lot of sense. So, we doubled down and recommitted to that effort, and we're really proud to be made in America.”

Topps is part of an American manufacturing sector that, excluding recession-related decreases in 2001 and 2008-2009, has continued to increase since the 1970s, according to Mark Perry, professor of economics at the University of Michigan.

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Perry argued that despite global market pressures, U.S. manufacturing can stand on its own. Taken by itself, he said, U.S. manufacturing would currently rank as the sixth-largest economy in the world, just behind France and ahead of the United Kingdom, Italy and Brazil.

Perry also said that at $2.155 trillion, the total US manufacturing output is 45% higher than China’s, “the country we’re supposedly losing ground to.” Topps’ baseball and football cards have always been made in America.

The company has manufacturing facilities in Texas, a packaging and integration facility in Pennsylvania and the worldwide headquarters in Manhattan.

Despite the overhead incentives of relocating somewhere with a cheaper lease, O’Hara felt it was important to remain in Manhattan for the human capital.

“This business really relies on creativity, and the quality of its people,” he said. “In New York, the side of our business that manufacturers and creates the look and feel of our product, the creativity side…the workforce really suited us well.

"We're very happy with the quality of the workforce, and the energy, and the enthusiasm that the American workers have.”

According to Perry, the economist, the American workforce is now more productive than ever. In his article he said the average U.S. factory worker is responsible today for more than $180,000 of annual manufacturing output, triple the $60,000 in 1972.

While the national unemployment rate holds steady at around 9%, O’Hara sees manufacturing in America to be a key factor in the economy’s recovery, despite the fact the U.S. has lost more than seven million manufacturing jobs since the late 1970s.

“It's great to be an American company, because you have pride in what you're doing," he said.

"If you think about our products, we're tied to the great sport of baseball and football, America's two largest sports, and we make products that kids really enjoy and really like. And to do that with American products and American workers really makes us proud,” said O’Hara.

Watch "Made In America," a special series by Nicole Lapin, on "Worldwide Exchange," 4 a.m.-6 a.m. ET on CNBC.