On this day in science history: chewing gum was patented

In 1869, William Finley Semple of Mount Vernon, Ohio, was issued the first U.S. patent for chewing gum (No. 98,304), made of “the combination of rubber with other articles adapted to the formation of an acceptable chewing gum”, but he never commercially produced gum. That was done by Thomas Adams of Staten Island, N.Y., who knew that chicle, a natural tree gum, could be chewed. His first experiments to vulcanize chicle for use as a rubber substitute were unsuccessful until he boiled a small batch of chicle in his kitchen and created the first chicle-based chewing gum. Testing sales at a local store, he found people liked his gum. In 1871, Adams patented a gum-producing machine so he could increase production.

Chewing gum stick by Lusheeta, via Wikimedia Commons

Humans have used chewing gum in some form for at least 100,000 years. Modern chewing gum today is made from butadiene-based synthetic rubber. Most chewing gums are considered polymers. Longer polymers can produce larger bubbles due to increased intermolecular forces.

Chewing gum in many forms has existed since the Neolithic period. 6,000-year-old chewing gum made from birch bark tar, with tooth imprints, has been found in Kierikki in Finland. The tar from which the gums were made is believed to have antiseptic properties and other medicinal benefits. It is chemically similar to petroleum tar and is in this way different from most other early gums. The Aztecs, as the ancient Mayans before them, used chicle as a base for making a gum-like substance and to stick objects together in everyday use. Forms of chewing gums were also chewed in Ancient Greece. The Ancient Greeks chewed mastic gum, made from the resin of the mastic tree. Mastic gum, like birch bark tar, has antiseptic properties and is believed to have been used to maintain oral health. Both chicle and mastic are tree resins. Many other cultures have chewed gum-like substances made from plants, grasses, and resins.

The American Indians chewed resin made from the sap of spruce trees. The New England settlers picked up this practice, and in 1848, John B. Curtis developed and sold the first commercial chewing gum called The State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum. In this way, the industrializing West, having forgotten about tree gums, rediscovered chewing gum through the First Americans. Around 1850 a gum made from paraffin wax, which is a petroleum product, was developed and soon exceeded the spruce gum in popularity. To sweeten these early gums the chewer would often make use of a plate of powdered sugar, which they would repeatedly dip the gum into to maintain sweetness.

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Posted on December 28, 2016, in Useful Information. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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