On this Day:
In 1869, William Finley Semple of Mount Vernon, Ohio, patented chewing gum. But people had been cleaning sticky substances off the bottom of their shoes for thousands of years before…
Chewing gum is a soft, cohesive substance designed to be chewed without being swallowed. Modern chewing gum is composed of gum base, sweeteners, softeners/plasticizers, flavors, colors, and, typically, a hard or powdered polyol coating. Its texture is reminiscent of rubber because of the physical-chemical properties of its polymer, plasticizer, and resin components, which contribute to its elastic-plastic, sticky, chewy characteristics.
The cultural tradition of chewing gum seems to have developed through a convergent evolution process, as traces of this habit have arisen separately in many of the early civilizations. Each of the early precursors to chewing gum were derived from natural growths local to the region and were chewed purely out of the instinctual desire to masticate. Early chewers did not necessarily desire to derive nutritional benefits from their chewable substances, but at times sought taste stimuli and teeth cleaning or breath-freshening capabilities.
Chewing gum in many forms has existed since the Neolithic period. 5,000-year-old chewing gum made from birch bark tar, with tooth imprints, has been found in Kierikki in Finland. The tar from which the gums were made is believed to have antiseptic properties and other medicinal benefits. It is chemically similar to petroleum tar and is in this way different from most other early gum. The Mayans and Aztecs were the first to exploit the positive properties of gum; they used chicle, a natural tree gum, as a base for making a gum-like substance and to stick objects together in everyday use. Forms of chewing gum were also chewed in Ancient Greece. The Ancient Greeks chewed mastic gum, made from the resin of the mastic tree. Mastic gum, like birch bark tar, has antiseptic properties and is believed to have been used to maintain oral health. Both chicle and mastic are tree resins. Many other cultures have chewed gum-like substances made from plants, grasses, and resins.
Although chewing gum can be traced back to civilizations around the world, the modernization and commercialization of this product mainly took place in the United States. The American Indians chewed resin made from the sap of spruce trees. The New England settlers picked up this practice, and in 1848, John B. Curtis developed and sold the first commercial chewing gum called The State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum. In this way, the industrializing West, having forgotten about tree gums, rediscovered chewing gum through the First Americans. Around 1850 a gum made from paraffin wax, which is a petroleum product, was developed and soon exceeded the spruce gum in popularity. To sweeten these early gums, the chewer would often make use of a plate of powdered sugar, which they would repeatedly dip the gum in to maintain sweetness. William Semple filed an early patent on chewing gum, patent number 98,304, on 28 December 1869.
An image of a Colgan’s Taffy Tolu Chewing Gum chromolithograph advertisement circa 1910
The first flavored chewing gum was created in the 1860s by John Colgan, a Louisville, Kentucky, pharmacist. Colgan mixed with powdered sugar the aromatic flavoring tolu, a powder obtained from an extract of the balsam tree (Myroxylon), creating small sticks of flavored chewing gum he named “Taffy Tolu”. Colgan also led the way in the manufacturing and packaging of chicle-based chewing gum, derived from Manilkara chicle, a tropical evergreen tree. He licensed a patent for automatically cutting chips of chewing gum from larger sticks: US 966,160 “Chewing Gum Chip Forming Machine” 2 August 1910 and a patent for automatically cutting wrappers for sticks of chewing gum: US 913,352 “Web-cutting attachment for wrapping-machines” 23 February 1909 from Louisville, Kentucky, inventor James Henry Brady, an employee of the Colgan Gum Company.
Modern chewing gum was first developed in the 1860s when chicle was brought from Mexico by the former President, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, to New York, where he gave it to Thomas Adams for use as a rubber substitute. Chicle did not succeed as a replacement for rubber, but as a gum, which was cut into strips and marketed as Adams New York Chewing Gum in 1871. Black Jack (1884), which is flavored with licorice, Chiclets (1899), and Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum were early popular gums that quickly dominated the market and are all still around today. Chewing gum gained worldwide popularity through American GIs in WWII, who were supplied chewing gum as a ration and traded it with locals. Synthetic gums were first introduced to the U.S. after chicle no longer satisfied the needs of making good chewing gum. By the 1960s, US manufacturers had switched to butadiene-based synthetic rubber, as it was cheaper to manufacture. In the United States, chewing gum experienced a decline in popularity in the early 21st century, as it lost its association with counterculture and teenage rebelliousness. Others blamed smartphones reducing impulse purchases at the checkout.
A review about the cognitive advantages of chewing gum by Onyper et al. (2011) found strong evidence of improvement for the following cognitive domains: working memory, episodic memory and speed of perception. However the improvements were only evident when chewing took place prior to cognitive testing. The precise mechanism by which gum chewing improves cognitive functioning is however not well understood. The researchers did also note that chewing-induced arousal could be masked by the distracting nature of chewing itself, which they named “dual-process theory”, which in turn could explain some of the contradictory findings by previous studies. They also noticed the similarity between mild physical exercise such as pedalling a stationary bike and chewing gum. It has been demonstrated that mild physical exercise leads to little cognitive impairment during the physical task accompanied by enhanced cognitive functioning afterwards. Furthermore, the researchers noted that no improvement could be found for verbal fluency, which is in accordance with previous studies. This finding suggests that the effect of chewing gum is domain specific. The cognitive improvements after a period of chewing gum have been demonstrated to last for 15–20 minutes and decline afterwards.
Chewing gum is not water-soluble and unlike other confectionery is not fully consumed. There has been much effort at public education and investment aimed at encouraging responsible disposal. Despite this it is commonly found stuck underneath benches, tables, handrails and escalators. It is extremely difficult and expensive to remove once “walked in” and dried. Gum bonds strongly to asphalt and rubber shoe soles because they are all made from polymeric hydrocarbons. It also bonds strongly with concrete paving. Removal is generally achieved by steam jet and scraper but the process is slow and labour-intensive.
Most external urban areas with high pedestrian traffic show high incidence of casual chewing gum discard. In 2000 a study on Oxford Street, one of London’s busiest shopping streets, showed that a quarter of a million black or white blobs of chewing gum were stuck to its pavement. Gum removal from city streets, or even famous landmarks, can be a costly effort; in Rome, 15,000 pieces of chewed gum are discarded on a daily basis and the removal of each piece costs the city one euro. However, likely as a consequence of Singapore’s ban, Singapore’s pavements are, perhaps uniquely amongst modern cities, free of gum.
Various teams of researchers have developed gum that is less adhesive and degrades within days or weeks. One example, Rev7 Gum, was briefly for sale from 2010 to 2012 (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
I’m trying to start up my own business, recycling discarded chewing gum. I just need a little help getting it off the ground…
Second, a Song:
Banita Sandhu (born 22 June 1997) is a Welsh actress who primarily works in Indian films. She made her film debut in the 2018 Hindi film October, and went on to star in the Tamil film Adithya Varma and the American science fiction series Pandora (both 2019).
Sandhu was born and brought up in Caerleon, Wales to second-generation British Indian parents. She moved to London at 18 to start her degree in English Literature at King’s College London. She started acting at the age of 11.
Sandhu appeared in a chewing gum advert which had the song “Ek Ajnabee Haseena Se” as the background score; and another advert, for Vodafone India, which was broadcast during the Indian Premier League cricket season. Her first feature film was October, starring Varun Dhawan, which released in 2018. This was followed by the American TV series Pandora, and the Tamil film Adithya Varma in 2019. She later signed on the Hindi film Sardar Udham Singh and the British film Kavita and Teresa.
“Ek Ajnabee Haseena Se” is a song that was part of the soundtrack for the 1974 Bollywood film Ajanabee (English: “Stranger”). It was composed by R. D. Burman and lyrics were written by Anand Bakshi.
Here is Banita Sandhu in a ‘great and beautiful love story’ which also happens to be an Indian Doublemint gum ad, set to the song “Ek Ajnabee Haseena Se”. According to Иван Васильевич, this is: “the most romantic commercial ever.” (per YouTube.com). It isn’t in English but it doesn’t matter. It is in a universal language. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“For some reason, chewing gum for me gets my brain going.” – Brie Larson
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Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky