Home Columnist EVER WONDER by Jacque Scott: Chewing gum

EVER WONDER by Jacque Scott: Chewing gum

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Chewing Gum

It was not so long ago, that many of us chewed gum on a regular basis.  The stores were filled rows of different kinds.  I loved Double Bubble, the pink bubble gum.  Was that the one with the funnies or comic strip inside? 

Does anyone know why we can mention Santa Anna and chewing gum in the same sentence?  Most of us remember him from our history lessons as the Mexican general who led the devastating attack on San Antonio’s Alamo in 1836.  But Santa Anna also left the United States another memorable legacy… chewing gum.

In 1866, Santa Anna, once the general of Mexico, took refuge on Staten Island, New York.  Story has it that as he was fleeing Mexico, he put a large hunk of chicle into his baggage.  Since the days of the ancient Mayas, this gummy substance made from the dried sap of the Sapodilla tree had been chewed in times of stress.  After several months on Staten Island, Santa Anna felt it was safe to return to his homeland.  He left behind a large wad of his old chewing gum in a desk drawer.

Thomas Adams, an acquaintance and an inventor, found the chicle.  Adams thought that he might be able to take the gummy stuff and turn it into a new kind of rubber. He failed.  He then tried to turn the chicle into a glue for false teeth.  He failed.  Finally Adams did what the Mexicans had been doing for years….he chewed it.  He boiled it, rolled it out with a rolling pin and voila, a new improved version of Santa Anna’s chewing gum. 

When tested in New Jersey, the new chewing gum was a huge success.  Adams patented the first gum making machine in 1871.  The gum was made in long notched strips that could be sold in penny lengths.  Soon others entered the gum field and offered new flavors and attractive packaging.  In order to keep up with the newcomers in the field, Adams bought vending machines for very important public places such as railroad stations.  The competition was very tough until a financial giant named Charles Flint convinced Adams and 5 other companies to merge in 1899 to start the American Chicle Company.  It was also known as the ‘the chewing gum trust’.

From that time on chewing gum has created several fortunes.  One manufacturer making a fortune was William Wrigley, Jr. who had remained independent of the chewing gum trust.  Wrigley put so much money into advertising that at one time his gum was the most advertised product in the world.

In the late 19th century, gum chewing was mainly a female pastime but by 1914, Americans of all ages, both male and female, had the chewing habit of 39 sticks of gum a year.  By 1925, Americans were chewing 100 sticks of gum a year.  And, by World War II, service men were chewing about 3000 sticks a year.  Before  gum chewing became popular around the world, newcomers to this country were often startled when they saw people sitting and chewing what they thought to be cud.

     As for chewing gum etiquette, even Emily Post finally conceded that it would be all right to chew gum “wherever formal standards in behavior are not in force”.  She also stated “not in church” or “when wearing formal clothes”.

     Thus, the story of the introduction and rise of chewing gum in the United States.  We owe it all to Santa Anna…..  God bless you.