Mexican revolutionary General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna is famous for his assault on the Alamo during Texas’ revolution in the 1830s. What most people don’t know is that he is responsible for introducing the United States to chewing gum.
Humans in various parts of the world have been chewing on natural gums for centuries. In Mexico, many people enjoyed chewing on chicle, a dried sap that comes from the wild Sapodilla tree that grows in the jungles of Central and South America. Santa Anna was no exception, and when he was taken prisoner by Sam Houston after losing to Texas in the revolution, he often chewed on chicle to calm his nerves.
Eventually, he was released from prison. Shortly after, he fell victim to a scam wherein some swindlers convinced him they needed his help to organize another revolution in Mexico. As part of the ruse, he was convinced to move to New York City, where he spent most of his money.
He needed to make his money back, so he hit on the idea of using chicle to produce a rubber substitute. He found an inventor in New York named Thomas Adams who was willing to help with the project and provide financing. They tried to make several products with the chicle, including tires and toys, but each one was a failure. Santa Anna eventually grew disillusioned with his failures and returned to Mexico.
Adams was left with a whole bunch of chicle, and he decided to keep experimenting with it. He knew that Mexicans chewed on it, so he decided to make a chewing product suited to American tastes. After he perfected his recipe, he convinced a local druggist to sell the chewing gum for a penny apiece.
The gum was an instant hit, even though this first version was not flavored. As the popularity of “Adams New York Gum-Snapping and Stretching” grew and was introduced to new markets, Adams decided to make it more exciting. He used licorice to flavor the gum, and his Black Jack became the first flavored gum to ever be sold.
Though we probably would not have chewing gum in the United States today were it not for General Santa Anna, he never profited from it. Adams made a fortune, but Santa Anna died in poverty in Mexico at age 82.