It’s hard to fathom childhood without chewing gum. Nostalgia just seeps out of the stuff. Whether you recall the comic tales of Bazooka Joe, the stick of stale pink stuff in a pack of baseball cards, or the gum that squirts when you chew it, one thing is for certain; chewing gum has earned a hallowed place in our pop culture. But you may not know how it all started, which is where Adams Gum comes in.
Actually, the story of Adams Gum (which, you might have guessed by now, is the first gum ever to be commercially produced in the United States) begins with the man who defeated the Americans at the Alamo: Mexican dictator, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. While living in exile in New York City, he decided to bring a bunch of chicle with him from Mexico, hoping that he could sell it to the locals.
A man by the name of Thomas Adams bought a batch from him, in the hopes that he could vulcanize it into a lucrative rubber substitute. He failed miserably, but all hope wasn’t lost. Upon noticing that Santa Anna liked to chew the stuff, Adams decided to add a little flavor to it and market it as chewing gum. The Adams Gum Company was born.
Adams started with a flavorless gum that didn’t sell too well. Undaunted, he added some sarsaparilla flavoring, which was better but still not what he was looking for. Finally, in 1884, he added some licorice flavoring and history was born. He called the gum “Black Jack” and after patenting a gum-making machine, started distributing his new product in packages containing five sticks each.
He later introduced a clove-flavored gum and acquired a pepsin-flavored gum called Beeman’s, which was a favorite with pilots. Adams also introduced the first sour gums, in apple and cherry flavor. Oh, and let’s not forget another Adam’s favorite: Chiclets. This guy definitely left his mark in the chewing gum world.
For most of the century, Adams gum was widely available and quite popular throughout the country. Unfortunately, things changed in the late 70s, when an inundation of new products like Bubble Yum and Bubblicious took over the chewable market. Adams halted production of Beeman’s, Clove, and Black Jack due to slow sales. Fans of the gum were predictably devastated.
Occasionally through the years, Adams has been known to surprise everyone and re-release some of these old favorites. So if you haven’t had the opportunity to try these distinctive flavors, or simply seek to relive some of your childhood chewing gum memories, keep an eye out. You never know when a pack of Black Jack might just pop up, ready to turn your tongue black and take you back to a simpler time in life, when there weren’t seemingly hundreds of flavors to choose from.
If you’ve got a junk food question, junk food memory, or just want to share an observation of your own, feel free to drop me a line at [email protected]. And you can always find me on Twitter posting about both old and new junk food, as well as other random geeky stuff. Stop by there and say hello as well.