American scientist and inventor Thomas Adams is today remembered as the most important man in the history of the chewing gum industry. Before he invented modern mass-produced chewing gum, there were many other examples of chewing gum use through the millennia. The first finding of gum was found in 5000 years old human settlements in Finland. In those distant times, many old cultures (Aztecs, Ancient Greeks, and Egyptians) used several types of chewing gum as a mouth freshener and medicinal accessory. However, none of these chewing gums come even close to Thomas Adams' success!
Modern civilization's first widespread use of chewing gum happened in the early 1800s when English settlements picked up the chewing practice from Native Americans. Several inventors started selling chewing gum between 1840 and 1870, most notably John B. Curtis (today regarded as the beginning of commercial chewing gum use) and William Semple (who filed the first patent on chewing gum in late 1869).
A significant change in the chewing gum industry came with Thomas Adams (1818-1905). During his lifetime, he worked as a photographer, glassmaker, and inventor, but his only great invention was made during the 1850s. He was a secretary to the Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794-1876). Santa Ana often chewed gum from the local tree Manilkara Chicle. Its natural gun had great potential, and with Santa Ana's help, Adams started his experiments in the hope of creating some commercially viable product. Their first goal was to develop a cheap alternative to costly rubber tires. After a year of unsuccessful trials, he gave up on the idea of Chicle-based rubber. Then he remembered that Santa Ana and the indigenous population of Mexico had enjoyed chewing chicle gum for the past few thousand years. The first batch of chewing gums was vastly superior to the popular paraffin wax gum used in American pharmacies during that time. With his eldest son Tom Jr., Adams made the first batch of modern chewing gums named "Adams New York No.1". He molded them into small gumballs wrapped in different colored tissue papers.
After initial success, Thomas Adams decided to expand his business. He established a small manufacturing workplace, employing 40 working girls and patented machines to manufacture gum. His business grew, and soon he hit several prominent landmarks. In 1871, Adams made the first flavored gum in the world called "Black Jack," which had the taste of licorice. In 1888, his gum company installed the first wending machine (located in a New York subway station), which sold his flavored chewing gums Black Jack and Tutti-Frutti. Next year, Thomas Adams formed a new company called "American Chicle Company," which merged the six largest American chewing gum manufacturers. He remained a member of its board of directors until 1905 when he died.
Thomas Adams will forever be remembered as the father of the modern-day chewing gum industry.