Origins of ordinary things: Chewing gum

It seems pointless to chew something for a while and then spit it out. Yet that’s how chewing gum works and for a lot of people it’s enjoyable and sometimes addictive.

It seems pointless to chew something for a while and then spit it out. Yet that’s how chewing gum works and for a lot of people it’s enjoyable and sometimes addictive.

What, exactly, is chewing gum anyway? Chewing gum is a soft solid substance which is made of gum base, sweeteners, softeners, plasticisers, flavours and other substances. When it is put in the mouth, it becomes soft but it does not dissolve.

Although the manufacture of chewing gum is relatively recent, the practice is ancient. According to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, there have been archeological finds of gum made from bark tar which is believed to date as far back as 6000 years ago.

History, an online education platform, puts the practice of chewing gum at an even earlier time; 9000 years ago. Ancient people, depending on their location, chewed gum. For instance, Northern Europeans are believed to have chewed birch tar for enjoyment and for relieving ailments such as toothache.

It took several millennia for chewing gum to get on the market. John Bacon Curtis an American businessman is credited with making the first commercial chewing gum in 1848. This is according to the web-based Chewing Gum Facts. Curtis’ gum was made of spruce tree resin, chewable rubbery material, flavour and paraffin.

Thomas Adams, an American scientist and inventor patented a chewing gum making machine in 1871. According to ThoughtCo, an online knowledge sharing platform, Adams had originally set out to become a photographer in the 1860s.

He had first experimented with chicle, a natural gum, in an effort to make rubber products such as toys, masks and bicycle tires but he failed. This left him with a surplus stock of chicle and he decided to add flavour in order to make chewing gum. This is according to Live Science, a web-based knowledge dissemination site.

The use of chicle as the base for making gum went on until the end of World War II. According to How Stuff Works, a website dedicated to knowledge on the manufacture of products, after World War II chemists started making synthetic gum bases.

According to Today I found Out, the decision to use synthetic alternatives was timely because the chicle trees were being cut in a manner which left them on the verge of extinction.

The use of synthetic rubber was a big step in the production of chewing gum. According to Made How, a website for the dissemination of knowledge on manufactured products, manufacturers stopped depending on supplies of imported natural rubber. For instance, chicle had to be imported from Mexico.

Today, the ingredients for making gum are very similar across board and manufacturers just make a few changes in order to differentiate one flavour from another. And people continue to chew away for pleasure.

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