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“Bubblegum, bubblegum in a dish, how many pieces do you wish? …1…2…3…4….” That counting-out rhyme, meant to settle such childhood matters as who was “it” or who was “out,” was testament to the stature of chewing gum in the daily lives of us 50’s and 60’s kids. Like death and taxes for adults, our little world was certain to consist of bikes, toys, candy, and a wad of gum to chew. We were taught back then that the “Basic Four” food groups were fruits and vegetables, milk, meat, and grains. But we all knew what was glaringly missing: the fifth food group—candy and gum.
I remember those special times when I accompanied my dad to visit friends on his bread delivery route. There was “Sam the Banana Man,” as we called him, and a bar owner named Rosie, both of whom would often give me a pack of gum—free of charge and for no reason! How I loved to pocket a pack of Beeman’s gum that was all my own—one that I didn’t have to share with my two brothers or my two sisters.
Alas, gum did not just inhabit our grateful mouths; it announced its insipid presence everywhere: gum underfoot, gum under school desks, gum plastered for eternity to the pavement. There was gum stuck in hair, the price you paid for clowning around in the midst of your delightful chew.
The most gum I ever saw in one place was on the infamous “gum wall” of the Devil’s Den, a ride at Conneaut Lake Park in northwestern Pennsylvania. The inner wall of this old-fashioned dark ride is filled with thousands of wads of gum stuck there by riders year after year since 1968.
For the hard core gum addict or truly rebellious, the consequence of chewing gum in school was standing in front of the class with the offending gum stuck to your nose.
And what if, heaven forbid, you inadvertently swallowed your gum? Would it really sit in your stomach for seven years before being digested? Could it really wrap around your windpipe or your belly button and choke you to death?
When I was young, I classified gum into two distinct categories: bubble gum and chewing gum.
Bubblegum was my favorite of the two, not only because of the distinctive taste but because you could blow far superior bubbles with it. Mastering the fine art of blowing bubbles was like a rite of passage; it promoted you from “little kid” to full-fledged grown-up kidhood. Most kids graduated by seven years old.
My favorite bubblegum came in the Topps baseball cards. Buy a pack of six cards for a nickel and be rewarded with a slab of bubble gum with the same dimensions as the cards themselves. How I loved to unwrap the package and inhale that unmistakable pink powdery goodness—right before stuffing it into my mouth! (For more on Topps baseball cards, see my post “Flipping Baseball Cards in 1960 . . . But You’re a Girl!”)
Another popular bubble gum and my second favorite was Bazooka Joe. The Topps Company included not only a chunk of flavorful pink gum but also, tucked inside, a comic strip featuring Bazooka Joe and friends and a fortune. All this for a penny apiece. And for the low, low price of perhaps 150 comics and 25 cents, you could win such swell prizes as a three-section periscope, a magic magnet set, or a secret club ring with your rubber stamp initial inside plus a secret code certificate.
Best of all, there’s no greater feeling of accomplishment than popping two Bazooka Joes in your mouth and creating the mother of all bubbles—well, at least the size of a softball. Of course, extricating the sticky mass from your face was like peeling off a cucumber facial mask.
FYI: According to the Guinness Book of World Records, in 2004, Chad Fell of Alabama produced a bubble gum bubble measuring a whopping 20 inches in diameter—without using his hands. Maybe if I had not misspent my youth studying reading, writing, and arithmetic, I could have devoted my time to perfecting monster bubbles. My record could be standing today, more than fifty years later. One can only dream.
There was a wide variety of chewing gum in the fifties and sixties. You could get the usual pack of five individually wrapped sticks for a nickel in 1963. Back then, I collected gum wrappers. I’ll tell you what I did with them shortly.
Below are photos of gum wrappers from my collection in no particular order.
Blackjack, a black licorice-flavored chewing gum, has roots dating back to the Texas War of Independence in 1869. Exiled Mexican president General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna brought with him to New Jersey a ton of Mexican chicle, a substance obtained from certain tropical American trees. He found a buyer in New Yorker Thomas Adams, who after failed attempts to transform the chicle into a rubber substitute, discovered that it could be flavored with licorice and made into chewing gum. Adams’ “Black Jack” became the first flavored gum in the U.S. as well as the first gum to be offered in sticks. Read more from this About.com Inventors page.
Teaberry dates back to 1900 but was at its peak of popularity in the 1960’s. The gum was pink with a minty/cinnamon taste. Its uniqueness made it one of my favorite chewing gums.
Do you remember the “Teaberry Shuffle” commercial? Pop a stick of Teaberry in your mouth and immediately break into the Teaberry Shuffle dance to the music of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
Invented by physician Edward E. Beeman in the late 1800’s, Beeman’s was made of pepsin powder and chicle. It became popular with airplane pilots because of its antacid properties, which calmed stomach acid in flight.
One of the oldest continuously sold gums, Clove was first sold in 1914. Actually flavored with cloves, it became popular as a cover-up of alcohol during Prohibition. I have always disliked the taste of clove, so it was definitely my last choice on the gum rack. Read more on the history of Black Jack, Teaberry, Beeman’s and Clove at Candyblog.
Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum has been on the market since 1893. During World War II, it was included in U.S. servicemen’s C-rations. Clearly, it has a fruity taste, but is it banana, pineapple, peach, or all three? I could always depend on my best friend Patty to have a pack of Juicy Fruit to share.
Also introduced in 1893 was Wrigley’s Spearmint gum, obviously flavored with the spearmint plant. It was originally given away free with the purchase of baking soda but became such a hit that it was soon sold separately.
Launched in 1914, Doublemint was Wrigley’s third brand. It came into prominence in 1939 with the introduction of the Doublemint Twins in radio ads and then in 1960 with the first television ads.
During World War II, Wrigley could not produce enough gum for everyone, so they took Spearmint, Doublemint, and Juicy Fruit off the civilian market and donated them to the U.S. Armed Forces. For a more extensive history of Wrigley’s gum, check out their Heritage Timeline here.
Here is a flashback to the Doublemint Twins in the 1960’s.
Beechnut’s roots date back to 1891 with the production of Beech-Nut hams. Over the years, the company branched out with many other products, beginning in 1910 with the Beech-Nut chewing gum line. This was a very common gum in the 1960’s.
Fruit Stripe, invented by James Parker in the early 1960’s, was an addition to the Beechnut gum line. Packaged and individually wrapped in multicolor stripes, it came in five flavors: cherry, lime, lemon, orange, and mixed fruit. I used to call the mixed fruit “tutti fruiti,” and that was the flavor that we siblings fought over. I’m not sure why we were so enthralled with this brand because it had the reputation of losing its flavor quickly. It had to be its distinction as the first striped gum ever sold.
Do you remember this Beech-Nut gum commercial from the 1960’s?
In addition to Black Jack and Clove, here are other Adams Company gum wrappers that I collected in the 1960’s.
Besides Teaberry, here are more Clark Company wrappers that I collected. Clark’s Cinnamint was touted on the package as the “Gum For White Teeth.”
Here are other wrappers from the Beech-Nut Line.
Fan Tan gum, manufactured by the Fan Tan Gum Corporation, was advertised as the “Royal Flavor Gum.”
There was one other popular gum that, in my mind, didn’t really fit into the other categories: Dentyne. The original Dentyne was a cinnamon flavored gum that its creator, druggist Franklin V. Canning, touted as a chewing gum that prevents tooth decay, helps keep teeth white, and freshens the breath. We kids were convinced that it was the only gum that was good for your teeth. I didn’t like any cinnamon gum, so I rarely chewed it. Who wanted healthy, anyway, right?
So, why did I save gum wrappers as a kid, you ask? It’s not like I planned to put them in a time capsule to open on my 60th birthday. And what do gum wrappers have to do with toys of childhood past?
One of my hobbies in the 60’s was making a gum wrapper chain. I collected the wrappers from everyone and from everywhere I could get them. I asked family and friends to save them, and I even picked them up from the road during walks if they were in decent condition. A walk to the Bookmobile, for instance, often garnered me a few.
In my school, the length of the chain was to equal the height of your boyfriend. I didn’t have a boyfriend, so I just kept on going . . . and going. . . and going . . . until it was 39 feet long. That’s a heck of a lot of gum chewing! Around 25 different brands were weaved into it. And I still have that 39-foot gum wrapper chain today.
Sometimes I sacrificed a few inches of my chain and used wrappers to make “jewelry.” You can see to the right a choker necklace made strictly of Doublemint gums wrappers, alternating both the silver foil inner wrapper and the green outer wrapper. I have also included a multi-gum wrapper bracelet and necklace.
I presumed that the length of my gum wrapper chain was quite remarkable until I checked the Guinness Book of World Records and discovered that Gary Duschl of Virginia Beach is the current record holder. As of March 11, 2014, his chain measures 78,550 feet, the equivalent of 262 football fields, and uses nearly 2 million gum wrappers. It takes 5 hours to walk from one end to the other.
I recently corresponded with Gary over this extraordinary feat. He passes on his best wishes to all my readers and a special thanks to all who have sent him wrappers and encouragement over the past 49 years. To see more amazing facts about Gary’s long-standing project and for instructions on how to begin your own gum wrapper chain, check out his website at www.gumwrapper.com.
KAREN GENNARI is the author of The Crab Hollow Chronicles, a fictitious memoir based on her experiences growing up in a neighborhood full of boys in 1961/62. It also explores the merits and challenges of life in a Catholic family of seven.
Join nine-year-old Karen Schmidt in her attempts to navigate Crab Hollow Road amidst the overwhelming male majority who beleaguer her at every opportunity. Does Karen have the fortitude to weather toadnappings, midnight escapades, false impersonation, and more? Along the way, relive the people, products, music, sports, and headlines of the early 1960’s. Virtually every page references the 1960’s. Lots of your favorite toys are mentioned in these pages.