Gum in America

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
The history of modern chewing gums begins in 1869, when a New York inventor by the name of Thomas Adams was introduced to chicle from Central and South America. Chicle is a latex, a milky, water-based plant fluid that carries tiny droplets of long, coiled carbon-hydrogen chains. These chains have the property of being elastic: they uncoil and stretch out when pulled, but snap back when released. The best known of these latex substances is rubber. Adams got the idea of using the chicle as a gum base, and patented chicle gum in 1871. With sugar and sassafras or licorice flavorings, it quickly caught on. By 1900, entrepreneurs with such names as Fleer and Wrigley had developed gumballs and peppermint and spearmint flavors, and in 1928 a Fleer employee perfected bubble gum by developing a very elastic latex mixture from longer hydrocarbon polymers.