Like many inventors, Thomas Adams was an absolute original. He searched for innovation in most everything he did and eventually found his place as a pioneer in the gum-making industry. His life is a story of experimentation—full of both setbacks and successes. To celebrate the trailblazing spirit of the inventor of flavored chewing gum and the now-iconic gum “stick,” take a quick tour through our Thomas Adams Timeline.
1818: Thomas Adams is born in New York City, which is slowly becoming the dominant metropolis in the United States. In fact, the city that would become known as the “Big Apple” had only just recently surpassed Philadelphia in being the most populous city in the young republic.
1840s: There is very little documented about Thomas Adams’s early life, though it is known that he dabbled in both glassmaking and photography in the years before he met Antonio de Santa Anna. Not surprisingly, Adams was regarded as “experimental” in both his glassmaking and photography techniques.
1850s: Adams begins working as a secretary in New York City for the then-exiled President Santa Anna of Mexico. While in the office, Santa Anna often chews chicle gum derived from the sapodilla trees of his homeland.
1860s: With a little convincing from Santa Anna, Thomas Adams decides to purchase a massive stock of chicle from Mexico in the hopes of creating a synthetic alternative to commercial rubber, which was then very expensive. To start, Adams attempts to craft toys, rain boots, and bicycle tires from chicle, all of which end in failure.
1869: Following his many failed attempts to break into the rubber business, Thomas Adams takes notice one day of a girl as she is purchasing some paraffin wax gum for a penny at the local drugstore. All at once, Adams recalls Santa Anna’s love for chicle gum, and he decides to use his surplus chicle stock to make a few test batches of his own chewing gum.
February 1871: “Adams New York No. 1” Gum goes on sale in drugstores for a penny. Unlike what would follow, Adams New York Gum is unsweetened and produced in gumballs.
1871: Adams receives a patent for a machine of his own design that is capable of producing large quantities of gum in a short period of time.
1884: Adams releases a new licorice-flavored gum called “Adams Black Jack,” which is the first chewing gum to add flavoring and be produced in more portable “gum sticks.”
1888: The Thomas Adams Gum Company introduces the first vending machines to the United States. These machines were located on New York’s subway platforms, and they offered Adams Tutti Frutti gum to all the waiting passengers.
1899: With the help of other rising stars in the gum industry, Thomas Adams becomes the first chairman of the American Chicle Company, a conglomeration of some of the most successful gum-makers of the time.
1905: Thomas Adams passes away in New York City at the age of 83. By then, all five boroughs of New York City—then considered the “cities of New York”—had been united into one city with a population of nearly 4 million.