The Lit Maven

Chewing Gum – One Bubble at a Time

Posted on: July 29, 2014

GumballI admit it – I am a gum chewer, but I’m very selective about where and when I chew. I don’t chew at work. There’s nothing worse than talking to someone while that person is chomping away happily, slurring words and pretending to be cool, especially in a professional setting. I chew when I drive. And sometimes when I walk. And sometimes when I sew. And sometimes when I’m watching television. And most times when I am watching a movie (in the movie theater), watching a play (in the legitimate theater), or watching a ball game (at the stadium).

Gum keeps me awake, aware, allows my jaw to have a nice workout and freshens my breath.

But, who thought of chewing gum in the first place? I never knew before today that it was the prehistoric gang. Yes! Neanderthals!

Since they lived before the Wrigley Family, prehistoric peoples chewed gum in its natural state – lumpy tree resin. No spearmint, cinnamon or strawberry-kiwi-watermelon for them! No bubbles either. These were real men and so were the women. The ancient Greeks and Mayans along with our own Native Americans enjoyed chewing gum in different forms and from various trees and sap. Yum!

It wasn’t until 1848 that chewing gum was introduced as a commercial product – a little piece of heaven wrapped in paper that lasted longer than hard candy. John B. Curtis (1827-1897) started the whole marketing movement calling it State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum. It was made out of spruce tree resin and paraffin. Twenty years later in 1869, Amos Taylor applied for and received a patent (# 111,798) for chewing gum. Dentist William Fenley Semple created a gum out of charcoal and chalk using Taylor’s patent. That same year, Mexican General Santa Anna (1794-1876) mentioned chicle (a milky juice from the sapodilla tree) to inventor Thomas Adams (1818-1905). Adams failed miserably trying to make objects like rain boots and toys out of chicle. It wasn’t until he added flavor to it and popped it in his mouth that the first commercially-successful chewing gum emerged. Adams went on to sell Sour Orange gum, the now famous Black Jack and Tutti-Frutti, the first gum sold in vending machines. Smart guy! Vending machines were located in NYC subway stations and sales were decent. The biggest problem was that this “modern” chewing gum did not hold flavor. Enter U.S. Representative from Ohio, William White in 1880 who, after adding sugar, corn syrup and peppermint extract, called his creation Yucatan Gum. It wasn’t long before the healthcare industry got involved. Internist Edward Beeman began selling gum as an aid to treat indigestion. A contemporary of White’s, Frank Fleer (1856-1921) took the chicle, made cubes out of it, covered it with a sweet coating and – voila! –“Chiclets”. The Fleer Corporation also introduced the first bubble gum. It wasn’t until William Wrigley Jr (1861-1932) marketed two packs of chewing gum with each can of baking powder in 1892 that the product really took off. By 1914, Wrigley and Fleer were working together, Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum and Juicy Fruit were everywhere and its most popular brand, Doublemint, was manufactured in Canada, Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand. In 1951, the Topps Company sold bubble gum with baseball cards. Believe it or not, they had previously included bubble gum with cigarettes as a promotion. People liked the baseball cards a lot better! Later in the 1950’s, a dentist, Dr. Petrulis, introduced the idea of sugarless gum to Wrigley. The rest is…um…history.

There are many benefits to chewing gum – it increases memory, decreases stress, manages weight, improves digestion, freshens breath and increases alertness.

Just don’t swallow it. My mother told me when I was very young that if you swallow gum, it wraps around your intestines and takes seven years to come out! Actually, this is not true (sorry, Mom!). It passes without incident after a day or two. Biggest threat? Possible choking hazard for children under six. In other words, wait until the age of reason to start chewing. And, don’t take your used gum and stick to the bottom edge of table, throw it on the city street or smash it into someone’s hair. Nobody likes that.

So, next time you pop a piece of gum into your mouth, whisper a thank you to the prehistorics, the ancients, the dentists, the entrepreneurs and the inventors who made such a big thing out of a little pleasure.

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