Who doesn’t love gum? It’s fun, sticky, and sweet! But did you know people have been chewing on stuff for centuries? Come explore the surprising history of gum with Joy, co-host Aliyah, and their new friend Gumpy (who may or may not be a sculpture made of old gum who magically came alive). Learn how several happy accidents led to the invention of modern chewing gum and why bubble gum is pink. And be sure to stick around for a new First Things First!
AALIYAH: OK, Joy. I just took a left at the elevator.
JOY DOLO (ON WALKIE-TALKIE): Now take five steps forward and you're almost there.
AALIYAH: OK. Five steps forward. I still don't see you. All I see is a door covered in tiny pink blobs of slime.
JOY DOLO: It's actually covered in gum.
AALIYAH: Joy, I found you. But did you say "gum?"
JOY DOLO: Yeah. I've been collecting gum for ages. I just love the sticky stuff. I chew it all the time. See? Num num num num. And when I'm done, I stick it in my gum room.
AALIYAH: Very-- resourceful. So does that mean everything in here is made from gum?
JOY DOLO: Yeah! It's so reduce, reuse, recycle of me. Is it not?
AALIYAH: That's one way to look at it.
JOY DOLO: That couch is gum-- my "gouch." My drum set is gum-- my "gum" set. Yeller!
I even have a "gumdelier," a chandelier made from gum. And it's so fun to swing on. Watch!
(SINGING) I want to stick to my gumdelier, my gumdelier. Uh, Aaliyah? A little help here? I'm kind of stuck.
AALIYAH: I got you.
JOY DOLO: Woo. That was close.
AALIYAH: What is this thing did you make a human-like sculpture out of gum?
JOY DOLO: Oh. That's my gumpture-- my gum sculpture.
Ah! It talks?
JOY DOLO: Oh, yeah. It totally does. Aaliyah meet my sentient gum creation come alive.
GUMPY: Yeah. Joy and I go way back to, like, last week when she sculpted me.
JOY DOLO: And we've been best bubble buds ever since.
AALIYAH: Can I be a bubble bud too?
GUMPY: I thought you'd never ask.
JOY DOLO: Bubble buds on three-- one two three
ALL: Bubble buds.
JOY DOLO: You're listening to Forever Ago from APM Studios. I'm your host Joy Dolo. And today, I'm here with my co-host and bubble bud Aaliyah from Nashville, Tennessee--
JOY DOLO: --and my gum sculpture turned bestie Gumpy.
GUMPY: Long-time listener, first-time guest, ready to explore the before.
JOY DOLO: And today, we're talking about my favorite chewy treat-- gum. Aaliyah do you like gum?
AALIYAH: Love gum. Can't live without it.
JOY DOLO: Can't live without it. When do you find that you really need gum the most?
AALIYAH: Maybe when I'm stressed or bored. That's when I feel like I need it the most.
JOY DOLO: Yeah, I feel like gum helps me like think. So sometimes, if I feel like overwhelmed, I'll just pop a piece of gum and just, like, walk around. And it just helps you think a little bit. Do you have a favorite flavor?
AALIYAH: I don't really have a favorite flavor. I just really like bubble gum.
JOY DOLO: Mm. So specifically, the blowing of the bubble gum.
JOY DOLO: I think blowing was next level of, like, there's like regular gum where you can just chew it and then get rid of it. And then next level was, like, blowing it. If you could invent a new kind of gum, what kind of gum would it be?
AALIYAH: I feel like the gum would be more of the appearance of the gum, and it would look like a glitch.
JOY DOLO: Like, from Into the Spider-Verse when it was glitch city?
JOY DOLO: [EXCLAIMS]
AALIYAH: Exactly what I was thinking.
JOY DOLO: --same wavelength. Oh my gosh. What a cool idea. And then maybe if you chewed it more, you could jump to another dimension?
AALIYAH: Yes. Num num num. Blow the bubble, go to another dimension. Boom.
JOY DOLO: Boom What do you think the name of this bubble gum would be?
JOY DOLO: Glitchtopia. I'll take one Glitchtopia please.
Do you think you'd still be able to blow it as well?
AALIYAH: Yeah, yeah.
JOY DOLO: So you can blow it and you can travel to another dimension. I really love, like, a Choose Your Own Adventure kind of gum.
JOY DOLO: I really can't imagine life without gum. But gum the way we know it is really the result of a bunch of happy accidents, like Gumpy.
GUMPY: Someone call Sheryl Crow because I'm your favorite mistake.
JOY DOLO: Definitely top three, right up there with pouring orange juice in my cereal by mistake, or that time I accidentally bought an Italian sneaker factory.
AALIYAH: Oh, right. Anyway, back to gum. Today, gum is made from rubber and plastic with a bit of flavoring.
JOY DOLO: Yeah, you heard right. Today's gum is made from a type of plastic. It's what gives gum its long-lasting chew.
GUMPY: It's fantastic. Or should I say fan-plastic?
JOY DOLO: But gum used to be made from natural materials. In fact, different cultures around the world have been chewing on all sorts of chewy stuff for centuries.
AALIYAH: Stuff like sap and resin from trees or plant roots.
JOY DOLO: Sap is the syrupy liquid inside trees. It's what you boil down to make maple syrup.
AALIYAH: And resin is the sticky stuff from trees that gets stuck on your hands, like when you pick up a pinecone.
JOY DOLO: Thousands of years ago in Northern Europe, people chewed on resin from trees.
AALIYAH: And in North America, many Native Americans chewed resin from spruce trees.
JOY DOLO: And in Central America, the ancient Aztecs and Mayans chewed on a natural form of rubber called chicle, which comes from special tree sap.
GUMPY: So people have always chewed on all sorts of stuff. Makes sense, because it's so fun.
JOY DOLO: But the idea of modern chewing gum really started around the mid 1800s.
AALIYAH: In 1850, California became the 31st state. Most people were getting around by horse and buggy or by train. And around this time, there were a couple different people experimenting with chewing gum.
JOY DOLO: One inventor in Maine started making gum out of resin from a spruce tree. He opened the world's first chewing gum factory in the early 1850s.
AALIYAH: But the gum was super-brittle, and it broke into little pieces when you chewed it.
JOY DOLO: Meanwhile, an Ohio dentist was also making chewing gum. He mixed chalk, licorice root, and charcoal with rubber to make his chewing gum.
GUMPY: Mm, scrumptious! Chalk is my favorite flavor.
AALIYAH: The dentist thought the gum would help people clean their teeth and make their jaws stronger.
JOY DOLO: But this gum was also hard and weird and not quite right.
GUMPY: Aw, shucks.
AALIYAH: Which brings us to another inventor. His name was Thomas Adams.
JOY DOLO: Adams was a jack of all trades. He was an inventor, glassblower, and photographer living in Staten Island in New York.
AALIYAH: Adams made many things, but not gum. At least not yet.
JOY DOLO: In 1869, Adams met a guy named Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana.
AALIYAH: Santa Ana was a former military general and president of Mexico.
JOY DOLO: He was president 11 times to be exact. But he was one shady dude.
GUMPY: Shadier than polarized sunglasses.
JOY DOLO: And Santa Ana was so shady that eventually he was kicked out of Mexico. So he came to the United States.
AALIYAH: Santa Ana had brought chicle from Mexico with him, the same stuff made from tree sap that the ancient Mayans and Aztecs had been chewing on for thousands of years.
JOY DOLO: Santa Ana had an idea. He wanted to turn it into tires.
GUMPY: That is not where I thought this was going.
AALIYAH: Yeah. Santa Ana thought that chicle could make a good rubber substitute.
JOY DOLO: And he figured he could use the money to get rich and return to Mexico in triumph. So Santa Ana turned to Adams the inventor for help. Adams, along with his son, tried to turn the clay into tires. But it didn't work because the chicle wouldn't harden up, so Santa Ana abandoned the project.
AALIYAH: But Adams had another idea. He realized he could use the clay to make a better type of chewing gum.
JOY DOLO: So Adams perfected the formula and created a company to market the product. The company sold gum across the country in the late 1880s.
AALIYAH: Adams' company was also the first to sell flavored gum in the US.
JOY DOLO: Their first flavors were Blackjack, made with licorice, and Tutti Frutti, which translates to "all fruits" in Italian.
GUMPY: I'm 2% Tutti Frutti on my mom's side.
AALIYAH: Wow. It's funny to think that it all started with Adams trying to make tires.
JOY DOLO: Right? I'm so glad he made gum instead.
Hey, what do you say we take a little break and recline on my gum couch-- my gouch?
Just watch your hair.
AALIYAH: Um. I think I'll pass on the gouch.
GUMPY: I'm all in.
JOY DOLO: Well, gouch or no couch, I think it's time we take a break and play--
CHILDREN: First Things First.
JOY DOLO: It's the game where we try to guess the order things came in history. We're keeping the theme rolling with three gum-related objects. We've got jawbreakers, which are giant round super-hard candies that sometimes have gum at the center, then blow pops-- those are lollipops with bubble gum in the center, and gumball machines. So we have jawbreakers, Blow Pops, and gumball machines. Aaliyah, what do you think came first, which came second, and which came most recently in history?
AALIYAH: I think gumball machines came first, definitely.
JOY DOLO: Oh, OK. Why do you say that?
AALIYAH: I just have a feeling, because I'm going to relate this to Spy Kids and other movies that I've seen. But they would have gumball machines. I don't know if it's exactly Spy Kids. But I feel like I've seen gumball machines in movies that were made a while ago--
JOY DOLO: Yeah, yeah.
AALIYAH: --or that were based on stuff made a while ago. So that's why, yeah. And I think Blow Pops would be in the middle.
JOY DOLO: OK. All right. And have you have you had a Blow Pop or a jawbreaker before?
AALIYAH: I haven't had a jawbreaker in a while because my tiny mouth cannot fit that thing in there for too long. I have to spit it out.
JOY DOLO: Yeah.
AALIYAH: And the ones that I see at the mall, they're like jumbo, and it's the size of my mouth. And I'm just like, no.
JOY DOLO: Would you say that it broke your jaw?
JOY DOLO: That's some good branding.
OK. Anyway, OK, so we have gumball machines first, and then Blow Pops as second?
AALIYAH: Yes, and then jawbreakers.
JOY DOLO: I feel like that's right, because I feel like jawbreakers are-- it's just so intense. It feels like something that would have been created later.
JOY DOLO: Those are great answers. We will hear the answers after the credits.
You're listening to Forever Ago. I'm Joy.
AALIYAH: I'm Aaliyah.
GUMPY: And I'm Gumpy, Joy's favorite mistake, bubble bud, and gum sculpture come to life.
JOY DOLO: The gumpture of my dreams. We love talking about the surprising history behind some of our favorite inventions on this show. We also love hearing about inventions you couldn't imagine living without. Here's today's--
VOICEOVER: --Invention Mention.
SAISON: Hi. My name's. Saison Atwater Carlson. And in my favorite invention is a grabber that I use to grab LEGOs that fall in the vent or other small stuff.
JOY DOLO: Thanks, Saison, for sending your Invention Mention. Listeners, send us a recording of yourself sharing your favorite invention and what's great about it at foreverago.org/contact. Now back to the episode. Today, we've been talking about the sticky chewy stuff we love to chomp-- gum.
AALIYAH: People have been chewing on things for thousands of years, like sap and resin from trees.
JOY DOLO: But chewing gum as we know it didn't really take off until the mid 1800s.
AALIYAH: American inventor Thomas Adams really perfected the recipe using chicle. And he even added flavors like licorice and fruit.
JOY DOLO: But Thomas wasn't the only one who found big gum success. And there was plenty of room for gum to get even greater, which brings us to our next story about a very savvy businessman named William Wrigley, Jr.
AALIYAH: Try saying that three times fast.
JOY DOLO: William Wrigley, William Wrigley, William Wrigley, William Wrigley.
WILLIAM WRIGLEY: You called?
GUMPY: Who in the Patrick Swayze's 1990 hit film Ghost is that? Wait. Are you the ghost of William Wrigley, Jr?
WILLIAM WRIGLEY: Well, if you say my name three times, I appear.
JOY DOLO: Well, that's convenient. I was just explaining how you were quite the businessman.
WILLIAM WRIGLEY: It's true. It all started in the 1890s in the windiest city Chicago.
The city was booming. It was one of the biggest in the world at the time. Skyscrapers were being built up across the city and bicycles were the latest craze.
GUMPY: And let me guess. You were selling gum?
WILLIAM WRIGLEY: Actually, I didn't start out selling gum. At first, I was a soap salesman. And to really entice people to buy my product, I used to offer free baking powder with each box of soap.
AALIYAH: Baking powder? That white powdery stuff people put in cakes and cookies to make them nice and fluffy?
WILLIAM WRIGLEY: That's the stuff. If you bought a box of soap, I'd throw in one or two cans of baking powder for free. But then something funny happened.
MAN: Wow. This baking powder is nice.
WOMAN: Yeah, I don't even care about the soap. Just take my money and fork over that baking powder stat.
WILLIAM WRIGLEY: So I figured I'd start selling baking powder instead. But this time, with each baking powder purchase, I offered two sticks of chewing gum for free. And you'll never guess what happened.
AALIYAH: People liked the gum more than the baking powder.
WILLIAM WRIGLEY: Exactly.
MAN: Give me that gummy goodness.
WOMAN: Yeah. Baking powder was the new soap. But now gum is the new baking powder.
WILLIAM WRIGLEY: The gum was so popular, I decided to go all in. I was big on advertising promoting long-lasting flavor and multiple benefits from chewing. Take a look at this ad from 1920.
JOY DOLO: It says "Wrigley's is good for teeth, appetite, and digestion. It will quench your thirst and keep you cool."
AALIYAH: Respectfully, those are some big claims, Mr Wrigley. Did your gum really do all that?
WILLIAM WRIGLEY: Who cares? The ads worked like a charm. Before I knew it, I was selling billions of sticks of gum every year.
JOY DOLO: Yeah. Wrigley here was an advertising genius. He even sent free samples to millions of Americans.
WILLIAM WRIGLEY: Back in the day, if you had a telephone, you could list your number and address in a phone book. So I went through the phone books and sent everyone listed four free pieces of gum. What can I say? I love a free sample.
GUMPY: Me too. Joy took me to the supermarket yesterday, and we ate so many tiny cubes of cheese on toothpicks.
WILLIAM WRIGLEY: I do love eating tiny things off tiny sticks. Anyway, not to toot my own horn, but toot toot. Some of my gums are still around today, like Spearmint and Juicy Fruit.
AALIYAH: Impressive. Thanks for sharing with us, Mr Wrigley.
WILLIAM WRIGLEY: My pleasure. Feel free to summon me anytime. Speaking of, somebody else is calling my name three times. Got to blast!
GUMPY: Wow. Guess I can finally cross meeting a ghost off my bucket list. Huzzah!
AALIYAH: OK, so we've heard about chewing gum. But we still haven't talked about the best kind of gum out there-- bubble gum.
JOY DOLO: Yes. I love that stuff. It's gum that you don't just chew, but you can blow big old bubbles with.
AALIYAH: So when did bubble gum enter the picture?
JOY DOLO: Well, the idea for bubble gum started not long after Wrigley's success. In 1906, another businessman named Frank Fleer was trying to make gum you could blow bubbles with. Up until now, gum was just for chewing.
You couldn't really blow bubbles with it. Fleer named his invention Blibber-Blubber. Now try saying that three times fast.
AALIYAH: Blibber-Blubber. Blibber-Blubber. Blibber-Blubber.
GUMPY: Wow! A top hat. I forgot the age-old Blibber-Blubber rule. If you say it three times, you give Gumpy a top hat. What do you think? Heh?
AALIYAH: Yes, the old Blibber-Blubber top hat rule. You look fabulous, Gumpy.
JOY DOLO: Without a doubt. But back to the Blibber-Blubber.
AALIYAH: You could chew Blibber-Blubber and blow big bubbles with it.
JOY DOLO: But-- and this is a big Blibber-Blubber but, Fleer's gum was so sticky, when the bubble popped, it was so hard to get off your skin, you'd have to scrub it off with harsh chemicals.
AALIYAH: That sounds terrible.
JOY DOLO: Yeah it was Blibber-Blubber busted. But this was all fixed with yet another happy accident when one of Fleer's employees started experimenting with the Blibber-Blubber recipe in his free time at work.
AALIYAH: The employee accidentally perfected the recipe when he added a stretchy material called latex.
JOY DOLO: This made the gum less sticky and more elastic, perfect for blowing bubbles.
The gum became known as Dubble Bubble, allegedly because it made bubbles double the size of Fleer's original recipe.
GUMPY: I do have one question, though. Do you know why so much bubble gum is pink?
AALIYAH: Well, Dubble Bubble used to be this awful gray color. So they decided to change that. But the only food coloring they had on hand was red.
JOY DOLO: So they thought, hey, let's use it. It's yet another happy accident that bubble gum is pink.
GUMPY: Well, would you look at that. My armpits are pink too.
AALIYAH: For a sentient gum sculpture, you're pretty awesome Gumpy. I'm so glad we met.
JOY DOLO: That's the wonderful thing about gum. It brings people together. When I have a pack, I can offer some to strangers. And boom, instant friendship. And without gum, I wouldn't have my gouch or gumdelier or Gumpy.
AALIYAH: Yeah. And without gum, we wouldn't be bubble buds.
GUMPY: Hey, would my best bubble buds like some gum?
JOY DOLO: Ooh, yes. Pass me your fingers, Gumpy.
GUMPY: Joy, you're so funny. Always joking.
JOY DOLO: Yeah. I was totally joking. I wasn't actually going to eat you, Gumpy.
GUMPY: Classic Joy. Anyways, I always have spare fresh wrapped gum sticks in my pockets.
Here you go bubble buds.
JOY DOLO: You're the best, Gumpy.
AALIYAH: Thanks, Gumpy.
GUMPY: Chomp, chomp, y'all.
JOY DOLO: This episode was written by Ruby Guthrie. We had help from Nico Gonzales Wisler, Sanden Totten, Shahla Farzan, Abran Moh de Selassie, Anna Goldfield, Rosie Dupont, Anna Weggel, and Allison Skarda. Sound design by Rachel Breeze. Theme music by Marc Sanchez.
Beth Perlman is our executive producer. We had engineering help from Anna Havermann, Jess Berg, and Dave Walton. The executives in charge of APM Studios are Chandra Kavati, Joanne Griffith, and Alex Schaffert. Special Thanks to Brant Miller.
AALIYAH: If you want access to ad-free episodes and special bonus content, subscribe to our Smarty Pass.
JOY DOLO: Check it out at smartypass.org. OK, Aaliyah. Ready to hear the answers for First Things First?
JOY DOLO: OK. As a reminder, we're putting these three things in order of when they were invented. There were jawbreakers, Blow Pops, and gumball machines. So--
Well, I'll tell you what. You definitely got the first one right.
AALIYAH: Oh yeah.
JOY DOLO: Gumballs were the first one. Gumball machines were made in 1907. And these vending machines were invented by the Thomas Adams, the same guy who turned chiclet into chewing gum.
Adams' company debuted the vending machines back in 1888 on New City subway platforms. At first, the machines just sold regular gum, like Adams' Tutti Frutti. And it wasn't until 1907 that the machines actually sold gumballs. That's wild. I did not think gumballs were that old.
AALIYAH: Yeah. I thought they were made in the 1940s.
JOY DOLO: Yeah, yeah.
AALIYAH: I didn't think they'd be that old, like over 100 years old.
JOY DOLO: Yeah. And it was what you said too about seeing it in the films. And I was like, yeah. Whenever I think of old-time movies, I'm like, they always have gumball machines. So it must be older.
AALIYAH: Like the restaurants or the cafes and stuff.
JOY DOLO: Yeah. And you still see them in restaurants and stuff today too. So they've been around forever. That's nuts. Good job for you. And then second was actually jawbreakers.
Yeah, jawbreakers were invented in 1919. And so the jawbreaker became an official candy in 1919, although the phrase "jawbreaker" can be found as early as 1839, meaning a hard-to-pronounce word. Like "William Wrigley" or "Blibber-Blubber?" Those are jawbreakers.
JOY DOLO: No one is quite sure how the candy got its name. So speaking of names, jawbreakers are also known as gobstoppers in places like the UK and Ireland, where "gob" used to be slang for mouth. And if you cut a jawbreaker in half, you can see all the multi layers of colored candy rings surrounding the gum center. It's so pretty.
AALIYAH: I've actually heard people call them gobstoppers.
JOY DOLO: Same thing. Who knew? We learned something else today.
JOY DOLO: And last, but not least, are Blow Pops. And those were actually the most recent. In 1966, so the Blow Pop, the lollipop with a bubble gum center, was invented in the late 1960s. And the candy was originally called the Triple Treat. Ooh, I like that name.
The Charms candy company bought the patent in the 1970s. And that's when they switched the name to Blow Pop. And the Blow Pop would go on to become the company's best-selling product of all time. What do you think of those answers?
AALIYAH: I-- I'm just surprised, because I'm surprised that gumball machines were made so-- like, I'm just surprised that they weren't made in the 1950s.
JOY DOLO: Yeah, by the same guy who turned chicle into chewing gum.
AALIYAH: Yeah. I didn't know they were over 100 years old.
JOY DOLO: Yeah. I was really surprised that jawbreaker was actually a hard-to-pronounce word. So now whenever you can go off in the world and be, like, oh, listen, teacher. That's a jawbreaker. I don't think I can say that. stop giving me all these jawbreakers, Ms Johnson.
AALIYAH: Yeah, jaw-j-- jawbreaker and tongue twister, same exact meaning.
JOY DOLO: This is the last episode of the season. Thanks so much for listening. We'll be back next spring with a brand-new season of Forever Ago. In the meantime, send us your Invention Mentions, questions, and drawings at foreverago.org/contact.
AALIYAH: Thanks for listening.
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