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Jawing About Gum

A topic to really chew on

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Here's another reason to "Remember the Alamo." After his victory there, Mexican General Santa Anna's luck ran out and he wound up in exile in, of all places, Staten Island, NY. There, he boarded with inventor Thomas Adams, and the rest is chewing gum history.

Like many Mexicans, Santa Anna chewed chicle, which is made from the sap of the sapodilla tree. He suggested to Adams that chicle could be used as a new form of rubber to make tires, toys, boots, etc. Santa Anna arranged for large quantities of chicle to be sent to Adams, but all of Adams' experiments failed. One day it struck him, though, that chicle could replace the paraffin-based gum people were chewing. He started producing a flavorless chicle gum with the slogan, "Adams New York Gum # 1 — Snapping and Stretching," and soon the Adams Sons and Company chewing gum company was in business. It's still operating today, although companies like Wrigley's have become much larger.

Juicy Fruit gum might be a relatively modern invention, but Mexicans had been chewing chicle since the days of the ancient Mayans. The ancient Greeks chewed mastiche, made from the resin of the mastic tree — that's where the word "masticate" (to chew) comes from. North American Indians chewed the sap from spruce trees and passed the habit along to the settlers, who made gum from spruce sap and beeswax.

The product has evolved considerably since the days of tree-tapping. The first bubble gum, called Blibber-Blubber (yum!), was invented by Frank Fleer in 1906, but it never sold. The formula was perfected by Walter Diemer, an employee of the Fleer Company, and Double Bubble was introduced in 1928.

The first bubble gum cards were issued in the 1930s, with pictures ranging from war heroes to Wild West figures to professional athletes. The Topps Company became famous for its baseball cards and for sponsoring bubble gum-blowing contests among ball players. Incidentally, the largest bubble ever blown was 23 inches in diameter. The record was not set, however, by a ball player (they seem to have moved on to other substances), but by Susan Montgomery Williams of Fresno, CA, on July 19, 1994.

There are more than 1,000 varieties of gum manufactured and sold in the US. You can find gum filled with liquid or speckled with crystals, gum that won't stick, sugarless gum, gum to help you quit smoking or lose weight, and gum in just about any flavor — except chocolate. The cocoa butter in chocolate doesn't combine well with the chewing gum base and negatively affects the "chewing quality."

Today, the average American chews 300 sticks of gum a year, and we spend over $2 billion a year on the stuff. Chew on that.

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