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The Chewing Gum Craze


Some people like to chew gum. Some do not. This basic truism has been around for a long time.

In Jamestown, back in 1882, on this date, the local newspaper editor noted that a “mania for chewing gum” had “struck some of our young ladies,” for he had observed three women “chewing” that week.

In those days, there were several kinds of chewing-gum. Spruce gum proliferated as an established favorite, for this gummy ooze from spruce-trees had been sold in lumps since the early 1800s. Around 1850, sweetened paraffin wax became a popular, soon surpassing the old spruce gum. In the early 1860s, juice from chicle trees in Central America came to America, and gum made from chicle dominated the market by the 1880s.

Numerous critics thought gum-chewing was a nasty habit. A scientist warned young women that too much chewing excessively exercised the facial muscles, creating “hollow-cheeked,” un-ladylike looks. Professor Eliot Norton of Harvard University thought women who chewed gum were “vulgar” and that gum-chewing was “barbarism.” Other nay-sayers believed chewing gum was unnatural. All that chewing might be good for cows who were supposed to chew their cuds, but the gum-chewing jaw motion over-stimulated the salivary glands, they said, causing the saliva to become over-churned with air, creating great discomfort in the stomach and bowels.

Some fear-mongers claimed that people who swallowed their gum got wads stuck in the appendix, causing appendicitis. And one critic of the gummy habit thought it was awfully expensive – for if a person chewed “three pieces a week” the habit would cost $1.56 a year, or, in 67 years, a shocking total of $104. 52.

Others defended gum-chewing as a positive good. One physician said that all that chewing made people thinner and healthier by channeling more saliva into the stomach , thereby stimulating improved digestion. And some thought chewing gum was far better than chewing tobacco – a prevalent vice back then.

A sentimental source contended that “gum chewing . . . [was] not so bad,” for some of his most pleasant memories were associated with times when he was chewing gum – while fishing, playing baseball, or just whiling away youthful hours.

One headline promoted “gum chewing as an art.” Likely an exaggeration, it became a reality for creative North Dakotans in the 20th century after Frank Fleer breathed new life into the gum business with the invention of Blibber-Blabber bubble gum.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

Sources: “A Mania for Chewing Gum,” Jamestown Weekly Alert , May 5, 1882, p. 4.

“Fair Gum-Chewers Beware,” Grand Forks Herald , July 17, 1888, p. 2.

“Why Chewing Gum Sells Well,” New York Times , January 4, 1897, p. 1.

“Chewing Gum Caused Appendicitis,” New York Times , April 19, 1896, p. 17.

“Juice of the Sapota Tree,” New York Times , March 24, 1884, p. 8.

“Slang and Gum,” Grand Forks Herald , September 7, 1910, p. 5.

“Do You Chew Gum,” Bismarck Tribune , September 30, 1874, p. 2.

“The Gum-Chewer’s Friend,” Jamestown Weekly Alert , August 26, 1886, p. 3.Hoffbe

“Gum-Chewing Defended,” Grand Forks Herald , June 24, 1883, p. 4.“Club

Man’s Gossip,” Minneapolis Tribune , November 28, 1886, p. 9.

“Birth of Chewing Gum,” New York Times , August 17, 1896, p. 3.“

Gum Chewing As An Art,” Bismarck Daily Tribune , March 27, 1888.

“History of Gum,” Wrigley.com, "http://www.wrigley.com/global/about-us/history-gum.aspx" www.wrigley.com/global/about-us/history-gum.aspx , accessed on March 28, 2014.

“Wrigley (Wm. Jr.) Company,” Encyclopedia of Chicago , "http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org"

www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org , accessed on March 28, 2014.