Chicle Gum History

Chicle Gums Chiclets

The history of chewing gum reaches all the way to the prehistoric Neolithic period where our ancestors used various resins or birch bar tars to chew for either for pleasure or dental health. However out of all the sources of gum that was used in those ancient times, one managed to survive to the modern age and be responsible for the rise of the modern chewing gum industry that we know today. This substance was chicle, a natural gum that is made naturally by evergreen trees most commonly found in Central America. This chicle gum that could be easily collected was often used by Aztecs, and it entered common use in those areas after European settlers immigrated en masse to the New World in the 17th and 18th century. But the mere presence of excellent natural chewing gum substance in millions of trees in Central America was not reason enough to make it famous worldwide. This happened only after former Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna visited New York in 1860, bringing with him chicle so that American chemist would try to make from it an alternative form of rubber (which was expensive to manufacture in mass quantities from natural sources).

Thomas Adams, secretary of Santa Anna, recognized the potential of chicle, and after few failed attempts of creating rubber-replacements decided to emulate the use-case that he knew from the first-hand experience works greatly – to create chewing gum. In 1877, He established first modern chewing gum company and released to the market “Adams New York Chewing Gum”, followed by “Black Jack” in 1889 and “Chiclets” (1899), gum that remains on sale even today. The commercial success of Adams' chewing gums can also be attributed his partnership with the gum-maker and industrialist William Wrigley Jr., who enabled wide promotion of chicle-based chewing gums all across the United States.

Since the popularization of the chicle in the United States, many chewing gum companies ramped up their production to levels that just kept on climbing and climbing as years went by. This caused the incredible demand for natural chicle gum that could be only procured from the Central American countries of Mexico, Belize (known as British Honduras until 1973) and Guatemala. Trees found in these countries were not only incredibly numerous, but they also produced the high-quality gum that was highly desired by the largest American companies.

The lion share of chicle commerce was done by William Wrigley Jr. The company, American Chicle Company and Beech-Nut Packing Company. As for the largest markets for chicle, Mexico commanded the largest share of almost 80% of all chicle traveling for North America came from them. However, since early 1900s trouble with weather and increased demand from United States, chicle manufacturers started to escalate their production to almost unattainable levels, tapping the trees for the gum excessively, causing growth problems and many other issues that even forced Mexican government to step in and introduce official laws for manufacture and sale of chicle. US government also interfered, introducing higher taxes on chicle imports, which prompted large gum manufacturers to start buying large amounts of land that housed chicle trees and to transport raw chicle to the US via Canada where taxes were much smaller.

The age of mass produced chicle gum started to fade in the 1960s when chewing gum manufacturers started switching from natural rubbers to more affordable and easier to produce butadiene-based synthetic rubbers.