Chewing Gum/Bubble Gum

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Chewing Gum/Bubble Gum

Chewing gum dates back thousands of years, but only in the last two centuries has the practice become a widespread phenomenon, enjoyed by children and adults alike. With the mass marketing of chewing gum, and later bubble gum, those in need of fresh breath, sweet taste, and what the commercials call "pure chewing satisfaction" have many options from which to choose.

The Ancient Greeks were probably the first gum chewers. They chewed a resin from the lentisk, or mastic tree. During the same period, the Mayans of Central America chewed chicle (pronounced CHI-kull), the milky sap of the sapodilla tree. More than twenty centuries later, chicle is still one of the primary ingredients of modern chewing gum. Other chewers of olden times include the native North Americans, who chewed the sap from red spruce trees. European colonists later picked up the habit and began trading the resin.

The birth of modern chewing gum can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century, when chicle, imported to the United States, was combined with waxes and various additives to enhance its chewability. In 1848, John B. Curtis (1827–1897) made and sold the first commercial chewing gum, called the State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum. Shortly thereafter, chewing gum began being produced in a variety of flavors. U.S. troops serving in Europe in World War I (1914–18) introduced chewing gum to the local population. It proved an immediate hit, and a multimillion dollar industry was born. Popular brands of chewing gum have included Chiclets, Wrigley's Spearmint,

Doublemint, and Big Red. There are a wide variety of sweet, sugarless, and breath-freshening varieties.

Gum technology took a major step forward when bubble gum was invented in 1928. Walter Diemer (c. 1904–1998), an accountant for the Fleer Chewing Gum Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was experimenting with new gum recipes when he hit upon the bubble gum formula by accident. "I was doing something else," Diemer later explained, "and ended up with something with bubbles." He colored his concoction pink because that was the only color he had on hand. The result, dubbed Dubble Bubble, became a hit with consumers and has remained so ever since.

Throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, bubble gum has been marketed in a variety of novel and interesting ways. It has been included in packets of baseball cards, nested inside lollipops, and packaged with a humorous comic strip chronicling the adventures of the fictional character "Bazooka Joe." However it is made or sold, it continues to win the hearts and exercise the jaws of children of all ages.

—Robert E. Schnakenberg

For More Information

Landau, Elaine. Chewing Gum: A Sticky Treat. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Press, 2001.

Wardlaw, Lee. Bubblemania: A Chewy History of Bubble Gum. New York: Aladdin, 1997.

Young, Robert. The Chewing Gum Book. Minneapolis: Dillon Press, 1989.