|General Santa Anna|
The Gum-Chewing General
Susan Page Davis here. Most of us recognize the name of Mexican General Santa Anna (that’s Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna) because he won the battle of the Alamo. He’s usually cast as the villain in our movies and textbooks. But we have something we can thank him for—chewing gum!
|The Alamo, where the famous battle took place in 1836|
General Sam Houston took Santa Anna prisoner, and over the years he was captured, returned to power, recaptured, and exiled several times. While he was in exile, he chewed gum. That is, he chewed chicle, the dried sap of the sapodilla tree that grows wild in Mexico, Central and South America. Reportedly, chomping on chicle calmed the ex-dictator’s nerves.
He was exiled in several places of over the years, including Cuba, Jamaica, Columbia, the then-Danish island of St. Thomas, and the United States.
While he was living in exile in Staten Island for part of his final exile, he had chicle sent to him from Mexico so that he could continue chewing.
|Circa 1917, bleeding a tree for chicle|
Santa Anna’s personal secretary and interpreter reportedly showed some of the rubbery, chewy substance to Thomas Adams, a friend and amateur inventor. Adams thought he might use chicle to produce a rubber substitute, possibly replacing the rubber in carriage tires. He is said to have bought a ton of the stuff from Santa Anna. The rubber replacement idea failed, but Adams started selling it as gum balls. Later adding flavors and sweetening, Adams created “rubber chewing gum.”
The first flavors of chewing gum came from Adams: sassafras and licorice. The licorice flavor, which he called “Black Jack,” is the oldest flavored gum on the market. The gum was sold as Adam’s New York Gum.
Santa Anna returned to Mexico under a general amnesty offer in 1874, and he died two years later, but the idea had already taken off.
By 1880, lots of companies were producing chewing gum. Edward Beeman, a druggist, came up with a peppermint flavored chicle gum that was very popular. William White also produced a peppermint gum called "Yucatan" that became a bestseller. Adams’s gum company became and remained one of the largest in the country, but it was William Wrigley Jr. who developed “Chiclets.”
|Gen. Santa Anna in his later years|
Bubble gum was first developed by Frank Fleer. He started making gum around 1885. The first attempts were disappointing. The bubbles were so sticky they were hard to scrub off a child’s face. By 1928 he had mastered it and produced a gum that stayed together when chewed and blown, and also snapped back. The drier bubble was not so hard to scrub off. He called it Dubble Bubble, and it is still the largest selling brand of bubble gum in the world.
It wasn’t long before companies were producing synthetic gum bases that were more uniform than chicle, easier to control, and harmless if swallowed.
|Remember Black Jack?|
After World War II, chicle was not used much anymore. Today we chew mostly polyvinyl acetate, a synthetic plastic. But we can still thank the erstwhile brilliant general and cruel dictator, who brought us the idea of chewing gum.
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Susan Page Davis is the author of more than sixty published novels. She’s always interested in the unusual happenings of the past. Her newest books include Seven Brides for Seven Texans, Mountain Christmas Brides, and River Rest. She’s a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, and also a winner of the Carol Award, two Will Rogers Medallions, and a finalist in the WILLA Literary Awards and the More Than Magic Contest. Visit her website at: www.susanpagedavis.com .