Champion gum-chewer Violet Beauregarde met her match with Willy Wonka’s chewing gum meal, which sadly, doesn’t exist. But the history of chewing gum is almost as interesting as a tomato soup, roast beef, and blueberry pie gum.
- Over 9,000 years ago, people in Northern Europe chewed the tar from birch bark to relieve toothaches.
- The Mayans and Aztecs chewed “chicle” made from the sapodilla tree to relieve thirst and freshen their breath. The Aztecs had strict social rules about chewing chicle. Young children and unmarried women could chew it openly. Widows, married women, and men could only chew it in private.
- Native Americans chewed the sap from spruce trees, a practice the colonists soon picked up.
- In the late 1840s, John Curtis boiled spruce sap and cut it in strips. He coated the strips in cornstarch so they wouldn’t stick together. He started the first chewing gum factory and sold his gum.
- Unfortunately, gum made from spruce sap doesn’t taste very good and becomes hard and brittle with chewing. His first chewing gum wasn’t very successful. Later, Curtis made gum from paraffin wax.
- New York inventor Thomas Adams conspired with exiled Mexican president Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna to find a way to turn chicle into a substitute for rubber. Santa Anna hoped this invention would allow him to return to power in Mexico. The project failed, but Adams realized he could use chicle to make gum. His gum was sold throughout the United States.
- William Wrigley Jr. was a creative salesman. He started out selling soap. To entice store owners to buy his products, he often threw in something free, such as a can of baking powder. He discovered that the baking powder was more popular than the soap so he switched to selling baking powder. Then he began offering chewing gum as a freebie with the baking powder. The chewing gum was very popular too. In 1893, he invented two new flavors: Wrigley’s Juice Fruit and Wrigley’s Spearmint. He sent free sticks of gum to people throughout the country and offered free chewing gum as a birthday present to young children. His strategy worked. He became one of the wealthiest men in America.
- Frank Fleer worked for years to make the first bubble gum. His first concoction, Blibber-Blubber, was too sticky. Finally, in 1928, his employee, Walter Diemer, came up with a successful bubble gum. It was named Dubble Bubble.
Watch a video about the history of gum.
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