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From toddlers to teens, parents to grandparents, there seems to be no age limit on the pleasures of gum-chewing. It is estimated that in North America alone, kids spend approximately half a billion dollars a year on gum. And in the United States, retail sales of gum (including bubble gum) reach $2 billion yearly. Gum manufacturing facilities are present in many countries throughout the world, with the majority of these owned by the Wrigley Company--the leading gum manufacturer in the world.

Although gum is a part of everyday modern life, it is certainly not a modern-day invention. According to historians, gum--or at least natural gum-- has been around for thousands of years. Around AD 50, Ancient Greeks supposedly chewed a substance called mastiche, which was resin from the Mastic tree.

In Central America, during the second century, the Mayans, an ancient Indian civilization, chewed a natural gum called chicle. This gum came from the latex of the Sapodilla tree. Chicle is the main ingredient of our chewing gum today.

American Indians also discovered and enjoyed another type of natural gum. This gum was obtained by cutting the bark of the Spruce tree and chewing the gum-like resin. Much later, the American Indians introduced this spruce gum to early North American settlers. These settlers later sold and traded lumps of Spruce, thus creating the first commercial chewing gum. This Spruce gum was popular in America up until the 1850's. Later paraffin wax became all the rage as the newest base for chewing gum.

In 1869 the first chewing gum to be successfully marketed was made from chicle--that same substance that had been used by Mexicans for centuries! It seems that Antonio Lopez de Santa, a Mexican general and conqueror of the Alamo, hired New York inventor Thomas Adams to develop a new form of rubber using chicle. Although Adams was unsuccessful in his attempt to develop rubber, he did, however, produce the first modern-day chewing gum. This new chicle-based gum was much smoother and softer than earlier spruce gums. It also held its flavor better. The gum was called Adams New York No. 1.

During the 1800's, Frank and Henry Fleer also got into the gum business and developed a new type of chewing gum. They covered chicle with white candy and called this gum Chiclets! They also hired a young man called Walter Diemer as a cost analyst. And it was this man who (although not an expert in chemistry) discovered the right combination of ingredients to create a gum strong enough and elastic enough to stretch when filled with air. This type of gum became know as Bubble gum.

Then early in the 1900's William Wrigley, Jr. promoted chewing gum by advertising. This was the first time gum had been promoted by this means and Wrigley's Spearmint Gum became a best seller.

Although gum companies carefully guard the secret of the actual blend of ingredients used in the process of gum-making, some of the common ingredients include powdered sugar, gum base (a combination of natural ingredients and food grade synthetic) glucose syrup, softeners, flavoring and coloring.

The actual process of making chewing gum begins by melting the gum base then filtering it. Next, sugar, glucose syrup, flavoring and coloring are added until the mix resembles a dough-like mass. Machines called extruders are then used in the blending, forming and smoothing process. The gum is now ready to be shaped. Gum can be cut into sticks or chunks or molded into shapes and candy-coated. These sticks and chunks are now sprinkled with powdered sugar and cooled for up to 48 hours. High speed machines are then used to wrap and package the gum in air tight wrappers.

Today, gum is an accepted commodity that is enjoyed by millions of people the world over. In fact it has become so much a part of everyday life that special types of gum have been developed to keep up with modern trends. Gum lovers now have a wide variety of gums to choose from such as sugarless gum, breath-freshening gum, and even gum that won't stick to dentures!

Chewing gum, amazingly enough, is now being recommend by health care specialists as beneficial in certain circumstances. For instance, gum is thought to aid smokers overcome their need for nicotine. It has also been proven that chewing gum helps reduce ear discomfort when flying. Some common reasons why millions of people are regular chewing gum users include the belief that not only does gum freshen the breath, it also reduces tension, satisfies food cravings, helps concentration, and even cleans the teeth after meals.

Gum comes in many flavors, shapes and colors. The most popular flavors are peppermint, fruit, and spearmint. People who chew gum, no matter what their age or where they live, agree that their favorite color of gum is the original color--pink!