Topps started as a New York-based chewing gum manufacturer. Its most successful early product was Bazooka bubble gum, which was packaged with a small comic on the wrapper. Starting in 1950, the company decided to try increasing gum sales by packaging them together with trading cards featuring TV character Hopalong Cassidy.
Beginning in 1951, Topps sold gum with baseball cards, which gradually became a popular collectible among young boys. Given the mediocre quality of the gum, the cards quickly became the primary attraction. In fact, the gum eventually became a hindrance because it tended to stain the cards, thus impairing their value to collectors who wanted to keep them in pristine condition.
During this period, Topps competed furiously with Bowman, another company producing baseball cards, to sign individual players to exclusive contracts. In 1956, Topps bought out Bowman, leaving it with an effective monopoly of the baseball card market that went unchallenged for a number of years. Topps would later resurrect Bowman as a subsidiary brand.
The Topps monopoly on baseball cards was finally broken by a lawsuit that let two more companies, Fleer and Donruss, enter the market in 1981. Other manufacturers followed, but Topps remains one of the leading brands in the baseball card hobby.
Topps has also produced trading cards for the other major professional sports played in the United States, and periodically has created collectible cards and stickers centered around movies, TV shows, musicians, and other entertainment phenomena (see non-sports trading card). One of Topps' best-known efforts in this area is a series of stickers called Garbage Pail Kids, a parody of the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls.