Just the Sticky Facts!


By Joe Giacobello

For all the time spent bubble-blowing with friends or breath-freshening between brushings, did you ever stop to think about that odd rubbery substance you were enjoying? What, after all, is it made of? Who invented it? And, most importantly, will it hurt me if I swallow it? Here are some gummy facts that you can really chew on!

How is Gum Made?

Prior to World War II, gum was made of chicle mixed with sugar and other flavorings. Chicle is a latex sap that comes from the Mexican sapodilla tree. A natural form of rubber, chicle does not dissolve when chewed. Most modern chewing gums are made with synthetic rubbers, which cost less and are more readily available.

Who Invented It?

The history of chewing gum goes back a long way and traverses many cultures, each with its own version of the chewy treat. In 2007, an archaeology student in Finland found a 5,000-year-old piece of chewing gum made of birch bark tar. The ancient Greeks chewed a sticky, stringy substance from the bark of the mastic tree. The Mayans in Central America chewed chicle mixed with tar and insect grease. And, the American Indians chewed a gummy substance produced by spruce trees.

It is difficult to credit any one person with the invention of gum as we know it today; many were involved in its development. John Curtis, in Maine, was the first businessman to sell gum in 1848; Amos Taylor, in Ohio, was the first to patent gum in 1869. In the late 1800s, Thomas Adams attempted to make toys, boots

and bike tires out of the chicle from sapodilla trees. His experiments were largely failures, until he popped a piece of disposal-bound chicle into his mouth and discovered that he liked the taste. Soon after, he opened the world’s first chewing gum factory and Adams’ New York Gum began selling for a penny a piece.

Is It Harmful To Swallow Gum?

Almost everyone has accidentally swallowed a piece of gum at some point, and it can be a little bit scary. Folklore suggests that gum will sit in your stomach for seven years before it can be digested (not true)! Although gum cannot be digested, it will pass through the digestive system within about three days and be excreted. Only the calories will accumulate.

Classroom Discussion

  • Discuss reasons for bans on gum chewing (in school, theme parks)
  • Discuss potential health risks to chewing gum on a regular basis. Can you think of any possible advantages?