The Interesting History of Black Jack Chewing Gum

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Black Jack

Mexican General and politician Santa Antonio Lopez (“Santa Anna”) shaped the history of our hemisphere in ways few will ever realize.

He is widely known for losing the Texas War of Independence against an army comprised largely of Appalachian soldiers and settlers who had written “GTT” (meaning “Gone to Texas”) onto the posts of their mountain cabins and went to what would become the Lonestar State.

Though these exploits are all true, he also had a direct hand in the creation of a chewing gum that would serve as a generational favorite for many Americans.

By 1869, the former Mexican President had been exiled out of the nation by political enemies and the famed enemy of America took up residence in, of all places, New Jersey.

Interestingly, Santa Anna did not come to the United States empty handed, he brought with him a ton of Mexican chicle with him.  An ancient gummy syrup found in many tropical trees, chicle was a substance Anna hoped to sell in order to raise funds to help him secure a triumphant resurgence to power in his home nation.

Though Santa Anna never returned to power in Mexico, the skillful politician did succeed in persuading a Staten Island inventor named Thomas Adams into purchasing the massive order of Mexican syrup.

Adams had hoped to invent a rubber substitute from the rough shipment, unfortunately for him, his work failed.

Stuck with hundreds of pounds of the unusable syrup-substance, the northern inventor observed Santa Anna chewing the chicle, a practice the ancient Mayans had done in order to stave hunger and freshen their breath.  This gave Adams an entirely new idea: create a chicle chewing gum.

After boiling a small batch in his kitchen, Adams created a chewing gum and persuaded local stores to sell the gum to see if people would purchase the new product.  To his delight, the gum was an instant hit!

In 1871, Adams received a patent on a “gum-making machine” and began mass-producing chicle-based gum. His first product, “Snapping and Stretching” was pure chicle with no flavoring, but sold well enough to encourage Adams to expand the gum operation.

Soon, new flavors included a licorice flavoring, which was called “Adams’ Black Jack”, the first flavored gum in the U.S. It was also the first gum to be offered in sticks.

For nearly a century, Black Jack Gum was an American favorite, sadly, in the 1970s, production ceased due to declining sales.

Black Jack chewing gum returned to the market in the 2000s, in limited quantities, often sold in candy specialty shops.

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