What are you chewing?: The history of gum!

By on April 2, 2008

If you eat candy, you’ve probably sunk your teeth into a slender stick of chewing gum at least once during your lifetime.

As one of the oldest candies in the world, chewing gum has provided enjoyment to people of all cultures across the globe for thousands of years.

Though it’s hard to imagine, archeologists have dated gum as far back as the prehistoric era. It seems that cavemen and cavewomen chewed on lumps of tree resin as a form of enjoyment.

Additionally, the substance has been discovered in other cultures. Ancient Greeks, for instance, routinely gnawed on tree resin as a way to clean their teeth and freshen their breath. Indians chewed on tree sap while the Mayan Indians of Central America enjoyed chicle, a sticky substance found inside a sapodilla tree. Early European settlers nibbled on hardened tree sap and beeswax according to essortment.com.

In the early 1800s, two brothers Henry and Frank Fleer, began experimenting with the chicle originally used by the Mayan Indians. Because the chicle was originally tasteless, Henry Feer proceeded to cover it with a white and sugary coating eventually naming it “Chiclets.” The other brother, Frank, had begun concocting a recipe for the world’s first bubblegum originally referred to as “Blibber Blubber Bubble Gum.” Due to its lack of marketing, the bubblegum never caught on with the public.

However, in 1848, the Curtis brothers began to modify the Fleer brothers’ take on chewing gum. Instead of using chicle, they utilized pure spruce tree resin. For the first time in history, chewing gum was sold in Maine stores for the price of one penny for every two hunks. In 1850, after adding paraffin and flavoring to their already popular concoction, the Curtis brothers opened the first major gum manufacturing plant, the Curtis Chewing Gum Factory.

In the same year, New York photographer Thomas Adams attempted to concoct his own version of the sticky substance. He initially had begun to boil chicle down from inside his home and sold it to local drug stores. The demand for the product became so intense that he invented and patented the first-ever gumball machine to keep up with business.

Shortly after the take off of the “gum giving” machine, Adams proceeded to patent flavored gum. He added licorice flavoring to his recipe and labeled it “Black Jack.” The Black Jack gum was also unique in that it was not sold in chunks but in stick form instead.

Originally sold with little or no flavor, it wasn’t until the 1880s when sugar was added. John Colgan, a druggist from Kentucky, added sugar to chicle, thus making chewing gum a “sweet treat” for consumers.

Bubblegum, on the other hand, has a much different story than the invention of chewing gum: it was actually created by accident. Although Frank Fleer is credited with being the inventor of bubblegum, his product was considered too sticky to enjoy. Walter Diemer, a 23-year-old accountant for the Fleer gum company came upon a strange creation while attempting to make a new rubber product.

Within months, the Fleer company began to market Diemer’s recipe as the first-ever commercially sold bubblegum. The product sold out of local grocery stores its first afternoon. Coloring it pink and naming it “Dubble Bubble,” the gum was an instant success.

Today, gum is one of the most enjoyed candies in the world. It is still chewed by people of all ages and is often recommended by health care providers as a teeth cleaner and stress reducer. Gum is commonly made of sugar, corn syrup, flavorings, and latex or plastic. It is sold in various forms ranging from tape, to balls, to sticks as well as in various colors including blue, green and purple. Pink, however remains the most popular color of bubblegum.

Also available are sugarless or sugar-free gums as well as gum that is marketed to maintain proper dental hygiene. Minty and refreshing, they claim to freshen breath and make teeth whiter without the calories.


About Hillary Federico