A History of Chewing Gum

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An average American will chew more than 300 pieces of gum each year, but where did the idea for gum come from?

Gum is big business with over $2 billion in sales in the United States alone. Some candies come and go over the years, but gum, the world’s first candy, still has people trying to see how big a bubble they can blow.

Early Versions of Chewing Gum

Variations of chewing gum have been around for millennia. The ancient Greeks chewed mastiche, which was made from the mastic tree resin, a shrub-like tree found on the island of Chios, Greece. The resin comes from the bark. Women of the time liked the gum because it cleaned their teeth and sweetened their breath.

In the Americas, the Mayans chewed chicle made from the sap of the sapodilla tree.

American Indians chewed a gum made from the sap of spruce trees and they introduced this gum to the early American settlers. The settlers then added some beeswax to their recipe.

Making a Marketable Gum

John Curtis is credited with making the first commercial chewing gum in 1848. He called it the State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum. Two years later, he started selling flavored gums using paraffin. These flavors became more popular than his original spruce gum.

In 1869, William Finley Semple was the first to patent his chewing gum recipe.

Thomas Adams’ Breakthrough

During the 1860’s, photographer Thomas Adams sought his fortune unsuccessfully until he met up with the famous General Antonio de Santa Anna who had been exiled from Mexico. The two men room together for a time and Santa Anna introduced Adams to the chewing gum chicle.

Adams believed chicle to be the key to his success. He tried to make toys, rain boots, bike tires out of it to no avail. Then in 1869, he took a break from his work and began chewing on a piece of chicle. He decided he liked the taste and that he would like it more if he could add flavor.

In 1871, Adams started selling his New York Gum for a penny a piece with the slogan “Adams’ New York Gum No. 1 — Snapping and Stretching.” That same year Adams also patented a machine for manufacturing gum.

In 1888, Adams’ Tutti-Frutti became the first gum to be sold in a vending machine, which was located in a New York City subway station.

Adding Taste

Until the late 1870s, chewing gum was marked by little or no flavor. A druggist from Kentucky, John Colgan, is credited with making chewing gum a sweeter treat when, in 1880, he added sugar to chicle. Colgan’s made the popularity of gum skyrocket.

Famous Names Make Their Appearance

In the early 1880s, two brothers, Henry and Frank Fleer, began experimenting with chicle. Henry Fleer covered the tasteless chicle with a sugary coating and “Chiclets.”

A New York druggist named Franklin Canning introduced Dentyne gum in 1899.

Frank Fleer invented the first bubble gum in 1906, though it wasn’t sold. However, an employee from his company, Walter Diemer, invented the popular, pink-colored Double Bubble in 1928. It sold over a million and a half dollars worth of gum in the first year.

In 1914, William Wrigley Jr. created his Wrigley Doublemint brand.

Gum Today

Today customers can find gum made from latex, plastic, corn syrup and, of course, sugar. Sugar-free version were introduced in the 1950’s. Gum can taste like mint, candy or fruit. It can be in a stick or a cube.

Whatever it’s form, it continue to remain a favorite treat worldwide.

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