Everyone loves gumballs. They’re colorful, inexpensive treats that are sure to please kids and adults alike. The Wowie Zowie gumball machine at our store is a lot of fun. You drop in a quarter, the music starts and the candy falls through a maze into your hand. It’s a quick moment of happiness. The gumball machine has been really popular lately with the customers coming in to do the Dancing Ice Cream Cone too. I did start to wonder though how these little spheres of sweetness came to be so popular. As it turns out, gum has been around for a long time.
The first gumballs were lumps of sap from spruce trees. After learning about it from Native Americans, European settlers started selling and trading the stuff to one another as a way to clean their teeth. Pine flavored gum doesn’t sound very good and a man named Thomas Adams didn’t think so either. In 1884, he concocted his famous licorice-flavored Black Jack gum out of sap from the sapodilla tree. Around the same time, William Wrigley figured out how to mass-produce spearmint and fruit flavored gum. We all know the smell of Juicy Fruit and how it makes out mouth water.
The first gumball – the candy coated ones we get out of machines – was made by Frank and Henry Fleer. It was a bit of a happy accident. The gum recipe they invented tasted good, but was too sticky and soft to be packaged on its own. They put a shell of hard candy around it and voila! Gumballs. Candy stores sold them at first, but gumball machines were invented and installed in subway stations around New York City by 1888. By 1897, animated figures were added to the machines to make getting the candy more exciting. It’s pretty amazing to think that the machine in our store with the blinking lights, music and cartoon characters started out as such a simple invention. From a early dental hygiene to a source of entertainment, the gumball has come a long way.