Tree Sap, Science, and Bazooka Joe’s Real Name (Chewing Gum)
We ruminate on (but don't swallow) the history of our most favorite inedible hydrocarbon polymer.

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Chewing gum is a soft, flavored confectionery designed for maximum adherence to minivan carpets. It is also used for freshening breath, blowing bubbles, popping bubbles in order to annoy coworkers, and for reminding smokers that their doctor was right: nicotine is really addictive.

Tree sap vs. Manilkara zapota van Royen

The first gum chewers voluntarily put into their faces the same thing that sticks to our hands for a week after putting up a Christmas tree.
Varieties of substances have been chewed for enjoyment by humans for centuries: ancient man chewed aromatic twigs from trees, ancient woman then chewed ancient man for chewing twigs when he should have been hunting wild animals they could chew for food, while the wild animals in turn chewed ancient woman while ancient man was out not hunting them, completing the great, masticating circle of life. Then, somewhere around the mid 1860s, American John Bacon “Yes, That’s My Real Middle Name” Curtis and his exemplary 19th-century beard created and sold the first commercial chewing gum, which he named “State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum”, an appropriate name considering IT WAS MADE FROM TREE SAP. Yes, the first gum chewers voluntarily put into their faces the same thing that sticks to our hands for a week after putting up a Christmas tree. Around that same time chicle, a rubbery tree sap made from the sapodilla tree, a member of the family Sapotaceae, known botanically as Manilkara zapota van Royen (syns. M. achras Fosb., M.) blah blah science was brought to the US by Mexican President General Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de “Long Name” Lebrón. President Long Name gave the gummy sap to his former secretary Thomas Adams (not the Thomas Adams who was the Lord Mayor of London, or the son of U.S. President John Adams, or the Commander-in-Chief of India, or the English organist and composer, or the English bookseller and publisher, or the English Nottingham lace manufacturer and philanthropist, etc.). Adams first intended to use the substance as a replacement for rubber tires, but after realizing no one wanted to drive around on thin, pink wheels that popped every two feet and stuck all over your fenders, he naturally switched to using chicle to manufacture gum. He marketed this first product in 1871 as “Adams New York Chewing Gum” because the name “Most Boring Gum Name In The Universe” was already taken by the aforementioned “State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum”, and soon gums such as Chiclets and Black Jack dominated the market.

The dawn of Dubble Bubble, plus: more science

The first successful gum designed specifically for blowing bubbles (previous test versions had caused hideous disfigurement) was invented by Walter Diemer for the Fleer company in 1928 (Official Motto: “Thanks a Lot For Warning Us About The Stock Market Crash, History”). Called “Dubble Bubble“, it was an immediate hit among school children because it deliberately misspelled “double” and their teachers couldn’t do a thing about it. The 1930s and 40s saw the replacement of chicle with synthetic substances; primarily hydrocarbon polymers such as styrene-butadiene rubber, isobutylene, isoprene copolymer, paraffin wax, blah blah more science. Although flavors and gimmicks, such as dental industry-mandated sugarless gum or bacon gumballs, have been added over the years, modern chewing gum has changed little since its inception, except for the parts about it coming from tree sap and tasting like tree sap and smelling like tree sap and sticking to your face like tree sap and also not being pink.

Chewing gum facts

    • The world’s oldest piece of chewing gum is over 9,000 years old. And, yes, it tastes horrible.
    • Chewing gum while cutting onions can keep you from crying. Conversely, chewing onions while cutting gum causes those around you to laugh uncontrollably.
    • If bubble gum gets stuck in your hair, congratulations! You’re not bald. You can remove it by rubbing the stuck gum with peanut butter. To remove the peanut butter, sprinkle cornstarch on the area and let stand for 15 minutes. To remove the cornstarch, dab it with chewing gum.
    • The largest bubble ever blown was 23 inches in diameter by Susan Williams of Fresno, California, who is still presumed to be floating somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
    • One of bubble gum’s most famous icons is Bazooka Joe, who, curiously, is actually armed with a Smith and Wesson Model 460V Revolver and whose real name was “Alphonse LeCribbage”.
    • The Topps card company began packing gum in their baseball card sets in order to teach kids about the dangers of chewing pink cardboard.
    • A common myth is that if you swallow chewing gum a watermelon will grow in your stomach. This, of course, is not true; watermelon’s grow in your pancreas. Swallowed gum is processed normally through the digestive system, where it is excreted and used to make circus peanuts.
Photo Credit: patrick_damiano cc

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