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The chicle down theory

Hudson Cooper
Posted 10/7/22

Do not let the title of this column scare you away. Although it sounds like the hard to swallow supply-side economic policies developed by the Reagan administration, this column gives you something …

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Random Thoughts

The chicle down theory


Do not let the title of this column scare you away. Although it sounds like the hard to swallow supply-side economic policies developed by the Reagan administration, this column gives you something else to chew on. While complicated economics might make your brain numb, this column is about gum.

The desire to chew caused ancient civilizations around the globe to find substances to masticate instead of ingesting. The substances they chose to chew were picked from the surrounding natural growth. 

In Finland, they have discovered a 5-thousand-year-old wad of chewing gum that has tooth imprints in it. Made from the tar found in birch bark, it was allegedly found stuck to the underside of a rock ledge.

 Many of us can relate to finding gum adhered to the underside of things when we recall finding petrified wads stuck under our school desks.

The Aztecs and Mayans used a primitive gum in a variety of ways. Their gum was made from chicle. Chicle is a natural gum collected from a variety of trees primarily found in South America. Its milky latex is harvested by slicing open the bark. Besides chewing it for medicinal purposes, they also used it to stick objects together. 

Archaeologists have uncovered many objects in their digs that are still stuck together with chicle. To borrow the name of a well-known brand of glue, the chicle they used could have been called “Super Chew.”

Ancient Greeks got into the gum chewing habit also. To maintain their oral health, necessary to allow for their long-winded philosophic lectures, they chewed resin from the mastic tree. 

Perhaps when the Greeks went to war with the Romans, they encountered the noted Roman warrior and statesman Cato. The battlefields might have been littered with discarded wads of mastic gum. Perhaps Cato chewed some of the mastic resin. 

Maybe some of his soldiers combined the word mastic with their leader’s name and thus coined the word masticate. It is a stretch, so I will let you chew on that for a while.

Eventually when European settlers crossed the Atlantic, they were taught how to make gum by the Native Americans. In 1848, John Curtis began selling his “Maine Pure Spruce Gum.” It became very popular especially when he flavored it with licorice, vanilla and sugar.

Twenty years later Thomas Adams began boiling chicle in his kitchen. Once dried and cut into strips Adams began selling it at a local pharmacy. It became a favorite treat for children and sold out quickly. 

In 1871, Adams was granted a patent for a machine which made sticks of gum. Soon he was selling three tons of gum a day. His licorice flavored gum called “Black Jack” was gobbled up by children and adults alike. Eventually Adams used his wealth to acquire the “Chiclets” brand which soon became his biggest seller.

Thomas Adams was the gum guy until the industry was conquered by William Wrigley. Wrigley had been a successful soap salesman who knew the value of advertising. To advertise his gum, Wrigley put up billboards all over the country. Not satisfied with the results, he came up with a plan that few could refuse. In 1915, he sent four sticks of “Wrigley’s Chewing Gum” to everyone listed in the phone books in the United States. Soon nearly two million Americans were chewing his gum! 

Wrigley was having a field day with the success of his gum. Eventually, he took some of his wealth and had a real field day. After acquiring the Chicago Cubs baseball team, he built the still venerable Wrigley Field.

Speaking of baseball, my personal introduction to gum was the rectangular rock-hard piece that came with every pack of baseball cards. I ripped open a pack with the hope of finding a Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle card. 

I chewed away as I discarded the less popular Tom Tresh and Marc Throneberry cards that usually wound up attached to my bicycle wheels with wooden clothespins. 


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