RBOH: Chewing Gum

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time looking through digitized historical newspapers, trying to fill in some of the missing pieces of the Clark House story. In the process, I’ve managed to discover some unique and important information about the Clarks, Turcks, Bonniwells and their neighbors. And I’ve also run into a lot of off-topic but fascinating tidbits about daily life in Wisconsin during the Clarks’ era, such as this random bit of history:

This advertisement appeared on page 3 of the Mount Carmel (Illinois) Register on October 8, 1851, only a few years after manufactured chewing gum became available to American consumers. Of course, chewing various kinds of gum and other natural substances has a very long history in many cultures around the world. Many Native Americans were known to chew the resin of spruce trees. And in the late-1840s, manufacturers in the Northeast—in particular Maine’s John B. Curtis—found success in making and commercially distributing chewing gum. The product caught on quickly, even in far away “western” states such as Wisconsin. In fact, by the early 1850s, gum chewing was notably popular in the Milwaukee area.

The Gum Business, 1851

Our next article, from the Milwaukee Daily Free Democrat of February 12, 1851, had this to say about the new trend:

That’s a lot of gum.

Take note, historical interpreters!

Did the Clarks and their Mequon friends and neighbors chew gum in the 1840s and ’50s? I have no evidence one way or the other (not even a complaint by Rev. Woodworth).

But it’s possible that they did. Perhaps the children got a stick of spruce gum as a special treat after the occasional trip to Milwaukee. Maybe Jonathan or Mary chewed to “wet their whistle” while working on the farm. Or perhaps some of the older children took up the habit once the family left the Mequon farm and moved to the city around 1861.

Trademark registration by Curtis & Son for White Mountain brand Chewing Gum, 1874. Library of Congress.

So even though Emily Post would not approve, it seems historically accurate for modern interpreters and re-enactors of the Clarks’ era to enjoy chewing gum while on the job. But, to be truly authentic, that gum should be made from spruce tree resin.

Bon appétit!

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NOTES: Both of today’s news clippings were found at newspapers.com (paysite). I added some color for visual interest and ease of reading. And as always, click on any image to open a larger, clearer and zoomable version of the image in a new window.

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