Chewing Gum

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Back in 1850, John B. Curtis opened a factory in Portland, Maine to manufacture chewing gum. It was the first chewing gum factory in the world.

He had started making gum out of spruce rosin on his kitchen stove. In my lifetime I have removed, trimmed, and chewed many a spruce rosin knob. The first twenty or more chews are the worst; the powder from your first bites are mixed with a very strong glue and not very tasty. In a few moments, if you haven’t popped off a crown or pulled fillings out of old cavities, you will get to enjoy it.

Up until just a few years ago, you could find small boxes of pure spruce gum, from Five Islands, in L. L. Bean’s store.

By 1866, Curtis had three factories making gum. He had found that paraffin could be used with the rosin or even as a substitute.

In 1871, chicle, the elastic gum of the sappodilla or naseberry tree found in Central and South America, was brought to the United States. Curtis experimented with the chicle and found it made a successful product even easier. It is used in almost all chewing gums of today.

In the Portland factory’s heyday of 1890 it was turning out over a thousand boxes of gum every working day. The gum was being shipped all over the world. The Portland factory employed an average of seventy-five people and used over 200,000 pounds of sugar, 75,000 pounds of gum chicle, and 25 tons of spruce knobs, plus over 20 tons of paraffin.

It always made me feel good during World War II when I heard some European kid saying “Gum Chum?” while holding out a friendly hand. Ten to one he had no idea where my home state of Maine was, but he knew what gum was. Sometimes I even had some to give him.

At the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook, they gave it to their employees every day to catch the yarn fibers in their mouths.

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