Chewing gum: the Mayans and Aztecs

Chewing gum has been around for hundreds of years in the form of chicle, a resin obtained from the sapodilla tree in southern Mexico and Central America.

Long ago, the Mayans and the Aztecs knew that by cutting the bark, they could collect this resin and create a chewable substance from it. The Mayans cooked and dried it into "cha" to quench thirst and prevent hunger. The Aztecs used it as a breath freshener but viewed public gum chewing as unacceptable.

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Modern-day chewing gum

Modern-day chewing gum was invented by Thomas Adams Sr., who got a supply of chicle. They first tried to vulcanize the chicle into some useful industrial substance but found a better idea of boiling and hand-rolling it into pieces of chewing gum.

They sold out their first batch at a local drugstore in hours, then decided to go into the manufacturing business. By the 1880s, Adams gum produced five tons of chewing gum daily.

Becoming rich from chewing gum

As a marketing gimmick, young soap salesman Wiliam Wrigley Jr.decided that his company would give free chewing gum to vendors who place large soap orders.

The gum was more popular than the soap, and he switched careers. By the time he died in 1932, Wrigley was one of the richest men in America.

Chewing gum: Unsustainable harvesting

By the mid-1930s, unsustainable harvesting methods used to increase yields killed almost a quarter of Mexico's sapodilla trees, and scientists predicted total forest depletion within four decades.

Chewing gum manufacturers turned to cheaper synthetic bases made from petroleum, wax and other substances.

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