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Chewing Gum

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What was voted the top snack choice of Americans in 2005? It was chewing gum, for some very legitimate reasons. Studies have shown that chewing gum increases focus, alertness and concentration. It also helps relieve everyday stresses, and aids in weight management programs.

Sugar-free gum freshens breath and helps prevent tooth decay.

The modern version of chewing gum was the brainchild of Thomas Adams (1818-1905), an American photographer, glass maker and inventor.

In the early 1850's, the former Mexican president, Santa Anna, was living in exile in the United States. He boarded with Adams at his Staten Island home. The Mexican wanted to raise enough money to build an army, with which he could return home, march on Mexico City and seize power.

He brought a quantity of chicle to Adams. Chicle is the natural gum from a tropical evergreen, the sapodilla tree, which is native to Central America. The Mexicans had been chewing it for thousands of years, but Santa Anna thought he had an better idea, which could make them both wealthy men.

Rubber products were very expensive. If Adams could discover a way to blend chicle with natural rubber, it would lower prices, and the sellers of chicle would soon become rich.

Santa Anna's friends in Mexico sent Adams a ton of chicle which he stored in a warehouse on Front Street in New York City.

For over a year, the inventor tried to make tires, toys, rubber boots and masks out of the chicle-rubber mixture, but every experiment was a failure. He was about ready to throw the whole batch of chicle into the East River, when he remembered how Santa Anna enjoyed chewing it.

That evening, in the kitchen, he mixed some chicle into a gummy wad and chewed on it. He realized it was smoother, softer and better-tasting than the paraffin wax gum that was presently popular with the American public.

Adams and his eldest son, Tom Jr., made up a few boxes of pure chicle gum and gave it a name: "Adams New York No.1" . It was made in little penny sticks wrapped in different colored tissue papers.

A box of the sticks of gum had a retail value of approximately one dollar. On the cover was a colored picture New York City Hall.

A nearby drugstore owner was asked to take a few boxes on consignment. The chicle gum easily outsold its rival, the paraffin wax gum.

The Adams' business grew rapidly. Thomas Sr, rented a small building in Jersey City In 1871, he patented a machine to manufacture gum. About thirty girls were hired to wrap the sticks by hand. Later other brand names were introduced, such as "Adams New York No. 2".

Later in 1871, Adams created the first flavored gum. "Black Jack" was given a liquorice flavor.

In 1888, the Adams Gum Company was the first to introduce vending machines in America. They were installed in the subway stations in New York City and sold Black Jack and the new flavor: Tutti-Frutti.

In 1889, the six largest chewing gum companies organized themselves into the American Chicle Company with Thomas Adams Jr. as chairman of the board of directors.

Thomas Adams Sr. died in 1905, and his sons ran the company until it was bought out by Warner Lambert in 1960.

Santa Anna never made money from chicle sales and was unable to raise an army to invade Mexico. However, he was allowed to return to his native land shortly before his death in 1876.

Thomas Adams Sr. left the world a noteworthy legacy. Today, Americans consume in total more than 195 million pounds of chewing gum each year. That's the equivalent of 175 sticks per person.

Since Adams' day, scientists have developed new resins and synthetic gum bases as substitutes for chicle, but chewing gum continues to help us stay focused, alert and to confront the contemporary world with cavity-free teeth and fresh breath.

More about this author: Carolyn Tytler

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