Who invented chewing gum?


The ancient Greeks were known to be fond of a gummy substance named mastiche, derived from the resin of the mastic tree. In fact, Dioscorides, a Greek physician and medical botanist of the First Century, refers to the "curative powers" of the mastic in his writing. Today many Greeks and Middle Easterners enjoy chewing mastic resin, combined with beeswax, a softening agent. It may quite literally be said that mastiche is the "chew" of the Greeks, since the root "mastichan," in Greek means "to chew."

The Mayans were not too far behind the Greeks in developing the custom of chewing gum. Research shows that in about the Second Century, this large tribe of Central American Indians practiced the art of chewing what was later to be known as "chicle," the coagulated sap of the Sapodilla tree. The Sapodilla trees were cautiously cultivated, not being tapped for chicle until they reached the age of 70 when they produced a yield of slightly more than a kilo in one day, followed by a four to eight-year rest. With a rope around the waist, the chicleros climbed up the often 35-metre high tree, making gashes in the bark from the bottom to the top so the latex or "milk" could run down to a small bucket on the ground. Then, in about the year 800, the Mayan civilization met its end for reasons still largely unknown, virtually the only Mayan practice retained intact was that of chewing gum. Its use continued among the descendants of the Mayans at least as late as the Nineteenth Century.

Meanwhile, the American Indians of New England were also chewing gum made from the resin of spruce trees. From the beginning in America, the custom of chewing gum grew, until during the early Nineteenth Century, the first gum products, lumps of spruce gum, were sold commercially. In 1848, John Curtis made the first gum in the United States when he cooked resin from a spruce tree on his wood-burning stove. In 1869, the first patent issued for chewing gum was given to William Semple, a dentist in Ohio, who invented a gum to exercise the jaws and stimulate the gums. It never sold, probably because it was made primarily of rubber, which to fix this problem was a whole different project unto itself.

The invention of gum, as we know it today, came about because of the friendship of two men, Thomas Adams, a photographer, and Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who had defeated the Texans at the Alamo. When Santa Anna was exiled from Mexico, he lived with Adams on Staten Island, New York. Adams had tried different schemes to make money but all had failed. Santa Anna told him of an idea that could make Adams wealthy. He told him of a gummy substance that people in Mexico had been chewing for thousands of years. It was called chicle, the milky sap from the sapodilla tree that grows in the tropical rain forests of Central America. But gum was not on either's mind. The plan was to blend chicle and rubber together to make cheaper tires, toys, and rainboots.

Santa Anna had his friends in Mexico ship a ton of chicle to Adams. Although he labored for about a year, every one of his experiments failed. He had not been able to blend chicle and rubber. A vast amount of useless chicle was stored in his warehouse and Adams decided to throw it all into the river. By sheer luck, Adams happened to go into a drugstore and saw a little girl buy some paraffin wax chewing gum. He remembered that Santa Anna had told him that Mexicans chewed chicle. Inspired, Adams started making unflavored pure chicle gum which sold extremely well.

Some years later, John Colgan, a drugstore owner in Louisville, Kentucky, was selling a gum he made from balsam tree sap and flavored with powdered sugar. He had heard of how successful Thomas Adams was, so he ordered 100 pounds of chicle. He started making Taffy Tolu Chewing Gum, which was so successful that he sold his drugstore and devoted his time to manufacturing chewing gum.

A breakthrough in gum manufacture occurred when a popcorn salesman, William J. White, started experimenting with a barrel of chicle a friend had given him. He discovered how to flavor gum. Chicle does not absorb flavors, but sugar does. He combined flavors, such as peppermint, with corn syrup and then blended the mixture with the chicle. In 1899, the major gum manufacturers united to become the American Chicle Company. William White was president and Thomas Adams, Jr., was chairman of the board. You might see some of their brands today, such as Black Jack and Beeman's. People have been chewing gum ever since.

William Wrigley, Jr. (the founder of Wrigley Gum) devised a marketing technique that caused sales of his gum to soar. He started out selling soap. As an extra incentive to merchants to carry Wrigley's soap, he offered them free baking powder. When baking powder proved to be more popular than soap, he switched to the baking powder business. One day, Mr. Wrigley got the idea to offer merchants free chewing gum with each can of baking powder. Click HERE to read more about: Wrigley.

~From: "What Makes Flamingos Pink?" by Bill McLain

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