When Did People Start Chewing Gum?
Chewing gum in many forms has existed since the Neolithic period. 5,000-year-old chewing gum made from birch bark tar, with tooth imprints, has been found in Kierikki in Finland. The tar from which the gums were made is believed to have antiseptic properties and other medicinal benefits.
The gum that we chew today originated in the late 1860s. But from very early times, people have enjoyed chewing on gum-like substances. The early Greeks chewed the thickened resin obtained from the mastic tree. As far back as 200 B.C., the Mayan Indians of Mexico chewed chicle, the dried latex (gum) of the sapodilla tree.
Chicle is still used as a gum base. From the Indians of New England, the American colonists learned to chew spruce gum made from spruce tree resin. People in the U.S. chew more gum than anyone else in the world.
The first flavored chewing gum was created in the 1860s by John Colgan, a Louisville, Kentucky pharmacist. Colgan mixed with powdered sugar the aromatic flavoring tolu, a powder obtained from an extract of the balsam tree (Myroxylon), creating small sticks of flavored chewing gum he named “Taffy Tolu”.
Modern chewing gum was first developed in the 1860s when chicle was brought from Mexico by the former President, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, to New York, where he gave it to Thomas Adams for use as a rubber substitute.
Chicle did not succeed as a replacement for rubber, but as a gum, which was cut into strips and marketed as Adams New York Chewing Gum in 1871. Black Jack (1884) and Chiclets (1899), it soon dominated the market.
Synthetic gums were first introduced to the U.S. after chicle no longer satisfied the needs of making good chewing gum. The hydrocarbon polymers approved to be in chewing gum are styrene-butadiene rubber, isobutylene, isoprene copolymer, paraffin wax, and petroleum wax. By the 1960s, US manufacturers had switched to butadiene-based synthetic rubber, as it was cheaper to manufacture.