Archaeologists have discovered chewed chunks of tree resin while unearthing prehistoric artifacts. From this, it can be surmised that our ancient ancestors were the original inventors of "chewing gum."
Within recorded history, the ancient Greeks also chewed tree resin. They chewed the resin of the mastic tree that grows in Turkey and Greece. They called their gum mastiche. Chewing gum was supposed to help clean a person's teeth and freshen their breath. Mastic gum can still be found in the Middle East and Greece (I tasted some mastic gum made in Syria, and I didn't like the flavor).
Records also show that Indians chewed sap from trees. Over 1000 years ago in Central America, the Maya Indians chewed chicle, which is the sap from the sapodilla tree. Years later, this same sap spurred the creation of the chewing gum industry. In New England, the Indians chewed the sap from spruce trees. White settlers learned this habit and collected their own hardened sap for chewing purposes. They made their own home-made chewing gum from spruce resin and beeswax.
Spruce Gum Commercialized But it wasn't until 1848 that the first commercial chewing gum was manufactured. John B. Curtis and his brother manufactured State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum on top of a Franklin stove. Like many new products, sales were slow at first until people learned about the new gum. Back in those days, one penny bought two pieces of chewing gum. After achieving a reasonable level of success, they moved from Bangor, Maine to Portland, Maine in 1850 and added paraffin gums to their product line. Some of these paraffin flavors were White Mountain, Biggest and Best, Four-in-Hand, Sugar Cream, and Licorice Lulu. They expanded their spruce gums to include American Flag, 200 Lump Spruce, Trunk Spruce, and Yankee Spruce. Growth continued until the Curtis Chewing Gum Company had 200 employees working in a three story manufacturing facility.
Spruce gums declined in popularity, partly due to impurities that were difficult to remove from the spruce resin. Paraffin gums were the most popular.
William Finley Semple of Mount Vernon, Ohio obtained the first chewing gum patent on December 28, 1869. Patent number 98,304 claimed the "combination of rubber with other articles, in any proportions adapted to the formation of an acceptable chewing gum." Semple never commercially made any chewing gum.
Development of Chicle Gum The big breakthrough came in 1869 from another source. Exiled Mexican former president and general, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (infamous for his victory over the Alamo defenders) was living in New Jersey. He brought a ton of Mexican chicle with him, in hopes of selling it. He persuaded Thomas Adams of Staten Island, New York to buy it. Adams was a photographer and inventor. Adams intended to vulcanize the chicle for use as a rubber substitute. But his efforts at vulcanization did not work. However, Adams noticed that Santa Anna liked to chew the chicle (as the Mayans did many years previously). Disappointed with the rubber experiments, Adams boiled a small batch of chicle in his kitchen to create a chewing gum. He gave some to a local store to see if people would buy it. People liked his gum, and before long his business was quite successful.
In 1871, Adams patented a gum-producing machine so he could make gum in larger quantities. He added licorice flavoring to his chewing gum in order to make it appeal to more customers. Again he was successful. This was the first flavored gum in the United States, and it was called Black Jack. At this time, gum changed shape from lump or chunks, to sticks. Black Jack flavor was produced until the 1970's when it was discontinued due to low sales.
Adams continued to have success with a Tutti-Frutti chewing gum. His chewing gum was the first to be sold by vending machines. These machines started in New York in 1888, at the El station platforms.
John Colgan, a druggist from Louisville, Kentucky, is generally credited with improving the flavor of chewing gum. In 1880, he added the flavor to the sugar before the sugar was added to the chicle. This made the flavor last longer as the gum was chewed.
More manufacturers entered the scene before the turn of the century. Wrigley's sold chewing gum made by the Zeno Manufacturing Company. Beeman's introduced a pepsin chewing gum touted to relieve indigestion. The Frank H. Fleer Company sold candy-coated Chiclets by the ounce. Dentyne, by Frank V. Canning, was developed as a "dental gum."
Another early gum manufacturer was David L. Clark. Born in Ireland, Clark came to America when he was only eight years old. He recalled in his memoirs, "My primary education consisted of just one year in grade school. After that I found it necessary to work, or starve. Like many other energetic poor boys, my business career started by selling newspapers and carrying market baskets at the age of nine. When I was 12, I went to Business College at night and worked through the day."
D. L. Clark's first steady job was in a frame factory for $1.50 a week. After that he worked in various occupations including; paint manufacturing, rolling mills, art glass factories, fish markets, wholesale notions, and delivery wagons among many others. He noted that in addition to what he learned in Business College; he had been learning through "extensive travels both in America and in many foreign countries, and the best of all teachers, the School of Experience."
Clark entered the candy business working for a small candy manufacturer from New York. After three years as a traveling salesman with a "country wagon"; he bought the peddling wagon, horses, and merchandise and went into business for himself.
The D. L. Clark Company was founded in 1886 when Clark started manufacturing candy in two back rooms of a small house in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, now Pittsburgh's North Side. When David Clark started selling candy in the streets of Pittsburgh, the prospect of becoming a giant in the confectionery industry was far from his thoughts. However, during his lifetime (1864-1939), the D. L. Clark Company became a leading candy manufacturer and the Clark bar emerged as one of the nation's favorite treats.
Clark's business grew steadily and in 1911 the company moved to larger quarters at a cracker factory on Pittsburgh's North Side. The D. L. Clark Company continued to expand and prosper at that location for 75 years, manufacturing some of America's best-known candies. The company experimented with a variety of ingredients that had never been used in candy before. Clark introduced confections filled with coconut, mint and peanut butter and was a leader in marketing candy bars. Three of its best creations were Clark, Zagnut, and Clark Coconut Crunch bar.
Clark scored an important marketing success when it introduced the five-cent-sized Clark bar. Initially, the bar was individually wrapped to facilitate shipment of candy to American troops during World War I. The Clark bar became extremely popular with the soldiers and its popularity carried over to the general public in the years following the war.
By 1920 the D. L. Clark Company was making about 150 different types of candy, including several five-cent bars, specialty items and a bulk candy line. Clark also manufactured chewing gum in a building across the street from his candy factory and in 1921 the Clark Brothers Chewing Gum Company was incorporated as a separate business. The Clark Brothers Chewing Gum Company made Teaberry and Tendermint gum. However, by 1931, the candy bar business had grown so large that Clark decided to specialize exclusively in candy bars and the Clark Brothers Chewing Gum Company was sold and renamed the Clark Gum Company. The result was two Clark companies: The D. L. Clark Company making candy and the Clark Gum Company making gum.
The D. L. Clark Company remained in the hands of the Clark family until it was sold to the Beatrice Food Company, which operated the company until 1983 when it was sold to the Pittsburgh Food and Beverage Company. In 1995 the Pittsburgh Food and Beverage was thrown into bankruptcy. The company was shut down for several months and its assets divested. Restructed as Clark Bar America, the company operated until May of 1999, when it was purchased by New England Confectionery Company (NECCO), the oldest candy manufacturer in the United States.
The Clark Gum Company was still operating under the same name in 2000.
While still operating as a single company, the D. L. Clark Company had early gum advertising that used the slogan "It's On The Level". Accompanying the slogan was a carpenter's level as the background for the chewing gum flavor printed on the package. This carpenter's level appeared on both the Teaberry and Tendermint flavors. Over the years, the depiction of the carpenter's level became more simplified, losing the wood grain and detail in the level. Clark's dropped the slogan and the level eventually became a plain red bar. The berries were kept on the gum wrapper through the 1970's. Seeing today's gum wrapper, nobody would ever guess a carpenter's level is the inspiration for the graphics.
Much of this text is a slightly rewritten verison of material provided by Rick Kuczur