Charles Panati, in EXTRAORDINARY ORIGINS OF EVERYDAY THINGS, says that chewing gum really started with the Aztecs, but was made popular by Generalissimo Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna – the Mexican commander who opposed and massacred the folks at the Alamo. The end result of that war was the secession of Texas from Mexico; Santa Anna was one of the few Mexican commanders not executed for his war crimes. He entered the U.S. and retired to Staten Island, NY, bringing with him a large chunk of chicle, the dried milky sap or latex of the Mexican jungle tree the sapodilla. The Aztecs called it chictli, a tasteless resin that was chewed. It was a favorite of Santa Anna, and he introduced it to a photographer and inventor, Thomas Adams.
Adams (no relation to Cecil, so far as we know) tried to convert the chicle into an inexpensive synthetic rubber, but failed. Instead, he tried to market it as an alternative to the then-popular wads of paraffin was sold as chew.
The first “small tasteless chicle balls went on sale in Hoboken, New Jersey, drugstore in February 1871 for a penny apiece.” (Hey, Dogster!) It sold well, being a superior chew to wax, and was marketed in long-thin strips so a druggist could break off a penny length.
A druggist from Louisville, KY, named John Colgan flavored the stuff in 1875 with “the medicinal balsam of tolu, an aromatic resin from a South American legume tree…familiar to children in the 1870s as a standard cough syrup.”
The success of Colgan’s Taffy-Tolu spawned other flavored chicles. Thomas Adams introduced sassafras gum, as well as a licorice flavored one named Black Jack (the oldest flavored chewing gum still on the market). In 1880, a Cleveland manufacturer introduced peppermit flavored chewing gum.
Adams also invented the chewing gum vending machine in the 1880s.
William Wrigley Jr introduced spearmint in 1892, followed by Juicy Fruit the next year, which became America’s top selling turn-of-[last]-century chewing gum.
Modern gum “is not Santa Anna’s original taffy-like chicle, but a gentler synthetic polymer, polyvinyl acetate, itself tasteless odorless and unappetizingly named.”
[Quoted material from Charles Panati, in the work cited above.]