American Chicle Company Chewing Gum History

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The story of the American Chicle Company and chewing gum history begins in 1869 on a chance encounter between Rudolph Napegy the exiled former secretary to Mexican president General Santa Anna and New York inventor Thomas Adams. Seeking a new life in the United States, Napegy brought samples of a rubbery fluid extract from several indigenous Mexican trees known as chicle to New York hoping to find an industrial or commercial use for the foreign product. Upon meeting Adams, they discussed it’s potential as a low-cost synthetic rubber.

After several unsuccessful experiments with the chicle substance, Adams had all but given up on any industrial potential when he happened to notice a girl purchasing a paraffin wax based dental product at a local drug store. Later that evening Adams, along with his son Horatio created a batch of what became the first modern chewing gum. After refining the product, they began packing Adams Chewing Gum in groups of 200 small tablets of the chicle products in boxes and marketed them under the label “Adams New York Chewing Gum” with the slogan of “Snapping and Stretching”.
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Although initially a nearly tasteless novelty item, Adams experimented with several methods to flavor the product, eventually finding success by shredding licorice into the chicle mixture. This concoction eventually resulted in Adams Black Jack gum, which was the first flavored gum in chewing gum history. The product was a huge success and led to rapid growth in the demand for chewing gum, leading Adams to obtain a large manufacturing unit in New York City. This modernization and machinery led to a reshaping of the product in a long cylinder like stick that was later adapted to the familiar flat chewing gum sticks we still use today.
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Due to the copious success of Adams product, many entrepreneurs particularly druggists attempted to create similar products to capture share in the expanding chewing gum market. The most successful of these druggists was Dr. Edward Beeman who had previously manufactured a pepsin based digestion aid. At the urging of his secretary, Beeman decided to combine the curative properties of pepsin with the novelty of somewhat aimless chewing resulting in Beeman’s Pepsin Chewing Gum.

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These two brands and products were the leaders in the chewing gum market until it was revolutionized by a Cleveland popcorn salesman named William J. White. White was fixated on creating flavored chewing gum although he realized that the chicle itself wouldn’t absorb any flavors. After several failed attempts to flavor the product, White discovered that he could flavor the gum by combining the chicle product with corn syrup which would easily absorb different flavors and blend seamlessly with chicle. White focused on a peppermint flavored gum which he name Yucatan after the Mexican origins of the chicle product.

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White, with years of experience promoting his popcorn was a natural marketer. After finalizing the flavor of his Yucatan brand, White paid a visit to Washington D.C. and presented a box of his product to every member of the United States Congress. White himself would later return home and was elected to congress in the next elections. White later attempted to broaden the chewing gum market in Europe by arranging a meeting with King Edward VIII of England. Although custom dictated that the king was not to be spoken to unless personally addressed, White upon meeting the king promptly presented himself and gave him a box of his chewing gum telling him “You’ve never tasted anything like it” and the rest is chewing gum history.

Due to the continued success of the product, most of the leading chewing gum companies including Adams’, White’s, Beeman’s and Primley’s decided to create the American Chicle Company in 1899 which became the world’s largest chewing gum company.

The newly formed Company initially focused their efforts on expanding their market while focusing on research and product development. This led to the creation of Certs, Sen Sen, Roliads, Dentyne, Certs and Trident sugar-free gum over the years.

American Chicle Company also realized the importance of branding and marketing efforts at an early stage and initially concentrated these efforts on “Sampling”. Although common place today, this marketing technique was somewhat innovative at the time and typically consisted of groups of attractive young women passing out sample-sized Chiclet products at busy street corners in major American cities. As media and marketing evolved, the company also advertised their products in magazines, new papers, on the radio and eventually on television. American Chicle Company was one of the first companies to use celebrity endorsements and is known for their ad featuring the promising young actor Bob Hope.

Unfortunately, little is known about several earlier marketing efforts, most notably the “Chiclet Zoo”. During the 1910’s, the company used a set of 12 promotional zoo animals, which could be obtained using a mail-in incentive. Customers could redeem their wrappers for a cloth stuffed animal like replica of their favorite animal. Each animal had a matching tin litho store sign in an attempt to entice children and “Ask your dealer how to get this Chiclet Zoo”. Advertising and original marketing pieces for this promotion are extremely rare and highly sought after collectors items and an interesting part of chewing gum history and marketing.
Chiclet Zoo

Giraffe
Alligator

The American Chicle Company was eventually acquired by the Warner-Lambert Company in 1962. The company still makes Chiclets, Beeman’s Pepsin Gum, Adams’ Black Jack and several other original products in its Morris Plains, New Jersey Plant.

*Courtesy of Tin Type Newsletter and its founder and editor Clark Secrest

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