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The History of Gumballs & Chicle Chewing Gum

Some History to Chew On

Ever wonder about the history of gumballs or chewing gum in general? We love gumballs so much that we have researched the topic quite a bit.

Ancient Roots & Mastic Resin

People have enjoyed chewing gum since ancient times. Mastic resin was used as a chewing gum for more than 2,000 years. The ancient Greeks chewed mastiche, a gummy substance derived from the resin of the mastic tree, a small evergreen shrub known for its aromatic qualities. Dioscorides, a Greek physician and botanist from the First Century, refers to the "curative powers" of mastic in his writing. In fact, the word mastic derives either from the Greek verb mastichein, which means "to gnash the teeth" or massein, which means "to chew." Mastic also was popular as a chewing gum among children in Roman times. Further, during the Middle Ages, mastic was used in the Middle East by the Sultan's harem both as a breath freshener and for cosmetics. The Sultan also chewed mastic for its healing properties.

Chicle

The Mayan people are the next ancient culture known to have enjoyed chewing gum. Research shows that in about the Second Century, Mayan people chewed chicle, which is derived from the sap of the Sapodilla tree, a tropical evergreen native to Central America. Chicle was enjoyed for its high sugar content and sweet flavor. In about the year 800, the Mayan civilization met its end, but the practice of chewing chicle remained among Mayan descendants until as late as the Nineteenth Century.

The rediscovery of chicle by the American inventor Thomas Adams in the 1860s laid the foundation for modern chewing gum. The Wrigley Company was a prominent user of chicle until the 1960s, when it was replaced by a less expensive material that made chewing gum less expensive to manufacture. There are only a few companies today that still make chewing gum from natural chicle and other natural gums. Today, most chewing gums are derived from man-made materials that provide highly consistent chewing quality. But, the chicle legacy remains; "chicle" continues to be the common word for chewing gum in Spanish. And, of course Chiclets gum, which is named after chicle.

Tree Sap

American Indians of New England also were known to chew gum, made from the resin of spruce trees. The custom of chewing gum grew until the early Nineteenth Century when the first gum products, lumps of spruce gum, were sold commercially.

Paraffin Wax

Spruce gum was gradually replaced by paraffin wax-based gum. Because paraffin gum requires the heat and moisture of the mouth to render it suitable for chewing, it was eventually replaced by other substances as a base in most gums. However, sweetened and flavored paraffin wax is still used in the production of novelty chewing products and refined paraffin waxes also are used as ingredients of some chewing gum bases.

Thomas Adams & The Chewing Gum Mastermind

Chewing gum may have ancient historical roots, but the inventor Thomas Adams is credited as the mind behind modern chewing gum. Adams was working unsuccessfully as a photographer during the 1860s when former Mexican political leader Antonio de Santa Anna went into exile and boarded with him in his Staten Island home. Santa Anna brought with him a large quantity of chicle, a natural gum from the Central American sapodilla tree. Santa Anna felt chicle would be in high demand among Americans because he believed it could be used as an additive to natural rubber, which could make rubber a less expensive material and could be used to manufacture all kinds of things, primarily tires. Santa Anna planned to make a fortune selling chicle to Americans and asked Adams to experiment with it.

Adams spent more than a year trying to make rain boots, toys, masks and bicycle tires, but found chicle unsuitable as a rubber substitute. He considered throwing out the entire batch when he noticed a girl chewing paraffin wax-based gum and remembered that General Santa Anna chewed chicle, just as the Mayan people did a thousand years ago. Adams decided to experiment with chicle as a gum base and found that chicle-based gum was smoother, softer and superior in taste to the paraffin gums available at that time. Adams produced a batch of chicle-based gum and persuaded a local druggist to carry it. Soon thereafter Adams opened the world's first chewing gum factory.

By February 1871, Adams New York Gum could be found on sale in drug stores for a penny per piece. In 1888, a Thomas Adams' chewing gum called Tutti-Frutti became the first gum to be sold in a vending machine. The machines were located in a New York City subway station.

Following is a quote from a 1944 speech given by Thomas Jr.'s son Horatio at a manager's banquet for the American Chicle Company.

"...after about a year's work of blending chicle with rubber, the experiments were regarded as a failure; consequently Mr. Thomas Adams intended to throw the remaining lot into the East River. But it happened that before this was done, Thomas Adams went into a drugstore at the corner. While he was there, a little girl came into the shop and asked for a chewing gum for one penny. It was known to Mr. Thomas Adams that chicle, which he had tried unsuccessfully to vulcanize as a rubber substitute, had been used as a chewing gum by the natives of Mexico for many years. So the idea struck him that perhaps they could use the chicle he wanted to throw away for the production of chewing gum and so salvage the lot in the storage. After the child had left the store, Mr. Thomas Adams asked the druggist what kind of chewing gum the little girl had bought. He was told that it was made of paraffin wax and called White Mountain. When he asked the man if he would be willing to try an entirely different kind of gum, the druggist agreed. When Mr. Thomas Adams arrived home that night, he spoke to his son, Tom Jr., my father, about his idea. Junior was very much impressed, and suggested that they make up a few boxes of chicle chewing gum and give it a name and a label. He offered to take it out on one of his trips (he was a salesman in wholesale tailors' trimmings and traveled as far west as the Mississippi). They decided on the name of Adams New York No. 1. It was made of pure chicle gum without any flavor. It was made in little penny sticks and wrapped in various colored tissue papers. The retail value of the box, I believe, was one dollar. On the cover of the box was a picture of City Hall, New York, in color."

The following is an extract from "The Encyclopedia of New York City" Edited by Kenneth T. Jackson Yale University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-300-05536-6:

...chewing gum manufacturers, formed as Adams Sons and Company in 1876 by the glass merchant Thomas Adams (1818-1905) and his two sons. As a result of experiments in a warehouse of Front Street, Adams made chewing gum that had chicle as an ingredient, large quantities of which had been made available to him by General Antonio de Santa Anna of Mexico, who was in exile in Staten Island and at whose instigation Thomas Adams had tried to use the chicle to make rubber. Thomas Adams sold the gum with the slogan "Adams' New York Gum No. 1 -- Snapping and Stretching." The firm was the nation's most prosperous chewing gum company by the end of the century: it built a monopoly in 1899 by merging with the six largest and best-known chewing gum manufacturers in the United States and Canada, and achieved great success as the maker of Chiclets.

Chewing Gum Historical Timeline

  • B.C. - Ancient Greeks chew mastic - a chewing gum made from Mastic Tree resin.
  • 200 A.D. to 900A.D. - Ancient Mayans chew chicle, which is the sap from Sapodilla trees. North American Indians chew the sap from spruce trees and passed the habit along to the settlers. Early American settlers make a chewing gum from spruce sap and beeswax.
  • 1848 - John B. Curtis makes and sells the first commercial chewing gum called the State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum.
  • 1850 - Curtis sells flavored paraffin-based gums, which became more popular than spruce gums.
  • December 28, 1869 - William Finley Semple becomes the first person to patent a chewing gum - U.S patent #98,304.
  • 1869 - Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna introduces Thomas Adams to chicle.
  • 1871 - Thomas Adams patents a machine to manufacture gum.
  • 1880 - John Colgan invents a way to make chewing gum taste better for a longer period of time while being chewed.
  • 1888 - Adams' chewing gum Tutti-Frutti becomes the first to be sold in a vending machine. The machines were located in a New York City subway station.
  • 1899 - Dentyne gum is created by New York druggist Franklin V. Canning.
  • 1906 - Frank Fleer invents the first bubble gum called Blibber-Blubber gum, which is never sold.
  • 1914 - William Wrigley, Jr. and Henry Fleer add mint and fruit extracts to a chicle-based chewing gum and Wrigley's "Double Mint" brand is created.
  • 1928 - An employee of the Frank H. Fleer Company, Walter Diemer invents the first commercially successful bubble gum based on Frank Fleer's 1906 creation. Diemer names his product Double Bubble.