You Won’t Believe How a Mexican General Became the OG of Chiclets Gum
Did you know that the father of what we know today as chewing gum is the Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna? Without him, there would be no Chiclets or Tutti-Frutti, and forget about Dentyne.
Nope, neither did we.
Santa Anna was Mexico’s eighth president who headed the nation’s government 11 times. He is often considered not so much as a democratic leader but more like a brutal dictator.
Most Mexicans remember him as the hero of the Mexican War for independence against Spain, the general who captured the Alamo, and a “vendepatria” who lost Texas, over half of Mexico’s territory, to the United States.
But one of the strangest things about him was that he loved to chew a gum-like substance called “chicle.” It was a milky latex harvested from trees the same way as rubber. The word “chicle” comes from the Aztec Nahuatl word “chictli/tzictli,” which means “sticky thing.”
Chewing gum is a habit as old as the Mayas
The habit of chewing gum has existed in many forms since the beginning of humankind. Researchers have found chewing gum more than 5,000 years old, made from birch bark tar.
The ancient Greeks also chewed mastic gum, made from the resin of that tree. The American Indians chewed resin made from the sap of spruce trees.
Most of these habits held the belief that these resins had antiseptic properties. However, the commercialization of chewing gum as we know it today originated in the Mayan civilization.
Since pre-Hispanic times, the Mayans produced a form of chewing gum made from the sapodilla tree’s salve (or chicle) found in the Yucatan state.
For centuries, and according to Maya tradition, chicleros milked the sapodilla tree’s resin by slashing zig-zag wounds into the tree with a machete.
The resulting “gum” was chewy and had no odor or taste. Years later, Santa Anna developed a taste for it because it reduced his stress.
Forced into exile in, of all places, Staten Island, he took tons of the sticky chewing gum with him. He had delusions that this rubber would make him rich.
Santa Anna’s dream was to create a new rubber empire made from the chewing gum
He sold the idea that you could make the chicle into cheap rubber to local inventor Thomas Adams, but it failed miserably.
Santa Anna left for Mexico and dumped all his chewing gum on Adams. So what was the poor inventor to do?
He spent a year trying to make the chicle into rubber for automobile tires, rain boots, and toys, but nothing stuck.
Adams remembered how much Santa Anna liked to chew the chicle and concocted a batch of chewing gum in his kitchen.
He tried it and found the gum was softer and tasted better than the popular paraffin wax people chewed then.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1959, he rolled it into a ball, wrapped it in colorful paper, and put the chewing gum on sale. It was an instant hit.
Soon after, Adams Sons and Company was created and, for a penny a piece, sold “Adams New York Gum — Snapping and Stretching.”
It soon became the American Chicle Company, and one of its most famous products, Chiclets, is still in stores today.
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