Category Archives: Inventions

Sticky Business

‘Kaugummi – Ich muss den Jonny küssen’ by Frank Fox & Erich Meder, published by Ludwig Doblinger (Leipzig, 1945). Cover designed by Anton Stursa (AS-monogram).

Before WWII chewing gum wasn’t common in Europe. The liberation changed that: GIs came with their jeeps and Coca-Cola, offering cigarettes and gum, and thus introduced us to the American way of life. Chewing gum was here to stay.

Although archaeologists have found evidence that the ancient Greeks, the Mayans, and the Aztecs all chewed sticky substances, the mass production of chewing gum happened but around the middle of the 19th century. In 1848, the Curtis family of Maine —inspired by the spruce resin gums enjoyed by Native Americans and by early American pioneers— started to sell the world’s first commercial chewing gum, the State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum. They later changed the recipe to a flavoured paraffin wax gum. In 1852 the family founded the Curtis & Son Company, the nation’s first chewing gum factory with 200 employees. The gum became a success, however, the family never patented any recipe…

Improved Chewing-Gum‘, Letters patent. source: United States Patent and Trademark Office

The first patent for chewing gum was granted to a dentist: William Semple of Mount Vernon in 1869. But instead of using resin or paraffin his gum was a mixture of rubber, chalk, powdered liquorice and charcoal, yuck! It was supposed to clean the teeth and strengthen the chewer’s jaw. William Semple did not market his invention very well though, and this left the door open for other players

‘She Chews Gum’ by T. J. Briner, published by Briner (Reading PA – 1898). Courtesy The Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, The Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

In the late 1850s the New Yorker Thomas Adams, a photographer and inventor, met General Santa Anna, the former Mexican president of the-Alamo-massacre fame, who lived in exile in Staten Island. Santa Anna had brought with him a shipment of chicle. Chicle is a natural gum from the sapadillo tree native to Middle America and the Caribbean.

This unlikely business duo, Thomas Adams and General Santa Anna, at first weren’t focused on gum. They intended to sell the chicle to rubber manufacturers as a cheap substitute for making carriage tires. This getting-rich-quickly scheme never took off because all their vulcanising experiments failed, and Santa Anna left the partnership. Adams though stuck with the chicle and it would make him very rich indeed. Noticing chicle’s resilience and elasticity he discovered the method to turn it into flavourless chewing gum. In 1871 he patented this process and christened the product Adam’s New York Chewing Gum, Snapping and Stretching.

A few years later he flavoured the chicle with liquorice and sold the gooey concoction as Black Jack gum. It was the first gum to be offered in sticks, and it quickly became the public’s favourite.  In 1888 he established a large factory and built the first vending machine in the US, selling tutti-frutti flavoured gum on New York subway platforms.

In 1899 Thomas Adams became the first chairman of the American Chicle Company, which brings us to the why of this post. I found an old album with collectable cards in the attic. This album was published as a promotion during the Twenties by a Belgian agent of the American Chicle Company. Ever curious I decided to explore the matter…

Collectible Cards Album, published by the Belgian representative of the American Chicle Company, Alb. Vandenbroeck (Visscherij-Pêcherie 154, Gent-Gand). source: Images Musicales Stories

The American Chicle Company was an amalgamation of Adams’ and other chewing gum giants. One of them was a Cleveland company, Beeman Chemical, established by pepsin manufacturer Dr. Edwin Beeman in 1887. He was a physician who discovered that pepsin, an extract from the stomach of freshly butchered hogs, provided relief from indigestion. Pepsin is an enzyme found naturally in the stomach that breaks down proteins. At first Beeman attempted to sell powdered pepsin in a bottle, but that failed. He then started to manufacture pepsin-flavoured chewing gum. It became a huge success, but only after he changed the picture of a pig on the wrapper by his own bearded face.

In Everybody’s Song, Susie chews some pepsin gum in order not to ‘be woozy‘.

‘Don’t be woozy’ by Chas B. Lawler & Edgar Selden, published by Howley Haviland C° (New York, 1897) and illustrated by Geo. Hart. Courtesy The Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, The Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

But it wasn’t until a travelling salesman, named William Wrigley junior, got into the business, that chewing gum became a national pastime. He was a genius when it came to marketing. He started as a soap salesman for his father’s company. In 1891 he offered baking powder as a premium with each box of soap. In 1892 he started selling baking powder as a sideline, this time offering chewing gum as a premium. And again the premium proved more popular than the base product. He dropped both soap and baking powder, and concentrated on manufacturing and selling chewing gum.

‘Oh You Spearmint Kiddo With the Wrigley Eyes’ by Jean Schwartz & William Jerome and published by Jerome H. Remick & Co. (New York, 1910). Courtesy The Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, The Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

In 1893 Wrigley started selling two of the most popular gums in history Juicy Fruit and Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum, and it made his fortune. In the song Oh You Spearmint Kiddo With the Wrigley Eyes, the names of the three gum giants, Adams, Beeman and Wrigley are united in the lyrics

Chiclets‘ by Joseph Fowle, published by Henry Krey (Boston, 1906) and illustrated by Fisher. Source:

Chiclets was an innovation of chewing gum, with a hard sugar coating offered in several flavours and colours. Various people have been credited with inventing Chiclets, and as the above sheet music illustrates, they became popular around 1906.

‘Does the Spearmint Lose Its Flavor’ by Breuer, Rose & Bloom. Published by J. Albert & Son (Sydney, 1924). Source:

Chu-Chu, a 7-minutes documentary film from around 1920, shows us the production process from chicle to chewing gum. It tells us that every American soldier in World War I received regular rations of gum while they were overseas. During World War II Wrigley supported US troops by taking Spearmint, Doublemint and Juicy Fruit off the civilian market, and dedicating the entire output of these brands to the US Armed Forces. This brings us back to the start of this post, the WWII liberation when the Europeans learned to appreciate chewing gum.

‘Got any Gum Chum?’ by Evans, Butler & de Bear, published by Sam Fox (New York, 1945). Source:

Pandemic & Panic in Paris

V’là l’Choléra qu’arrive’ by Aristide Bruant, published by Le Mirliton (Paris, 1893) and iIlustrated by Théophile Steinlen.

The song V’la le Choléra qui arrive by Aristide Bruant is an ironic and anticlerical hymn to the cholera pandemic that scared Paris. The illustration is by Theophile Steinlen. We have no idea why he chose to dress this very contagious and devastating disease like a stereotypical Englishman. In a previous Bruant publication Steinlen had rather chosen for the image of the cholera as a travelling salesman or a polite caretaker.

V’là l’choléra qu’arrive‘, illustration by Théophile Steinlen, in ‘Dans la rue : chansons et monologues. Volume 1’, published by Aristide Bruant (Paris, 1889-1895). source: Paris Musées (CC-0)

And for a third edition Steinlen chose to represent the cholera as a murdering phantom hovering over the capital, the frightening sign of divine vengeance: “Here comes the cholera! From shore to shore, everyone will die. Here comes the cholera.”

V’La l’Cholera qu’arrive’ by Aristide Bruant, published by Aristide Bruant (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Steinlen. Source WikiArt.

Aristide Bruant created the song in 1884 when cholera was diagnosed in Toulon. Allegedly it had arrived by boat from Saigon and quickly spread to Marseille and Arles. People started to flee from the Midi to Paris. The memory of the huge epidemic wave of 1853-1854 —with more than 143,000 dead— was still vivid: the people from Paris, the municipality and the press panicked!

Le Cri du peuple, 25 juin 1884. Source:

Quickly, prophylactic measures were prescribed. Special train wagons were reserved for travellers coming from Toulon and Marseilles. On arrival in Paris, at the Gare de Lyon, these travellers had to descend into a special waiting room where the floor was covered with sawdust impregnated with thymol and copper salts. Large containers with nitrosylsulfuric acid were left to burn, in the belief that inhaling the hazardous vapours could disinfect. Travellers had to stay there for half an hour, meanwhile their luggage was fumigated in another room.

A newspaper of the time tells the anecdote of a wealthy merchant, arriving from China, who lands in Paris with a collection of parakeets and turtles. The birds sat in an open trunk and the unfortunate animals were poisoned by the spreading vapours of the disinfection ( Le Matin 11 July 1884). Soon however the Academy of Medicine dismissed these disinfection practices as inefficient and illusory.

The press was stirring up the fear for a new murderous epidemic. But by then science had already rejected the old idea that miasma, or a noxious form of bad air, caused cholera and had accepted John Snow’s idea that cholera could originate in water. Louis Pasteur had demonstrated that microorganisms can cause diseases and he had discovered how to make vaccines from attenuated microbes. Robert Koch had determined the causative agent of cholera by isolating the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.(*) And a complex system of new sewers (Les égouts) were being constructed in Paris to sanitize the city.

Le Vaccin‘ by Fernand Heintz and Jean Deyrmon. Published by Marcel Labbé (Paris, s.d.), illustrated by Paul Dubois.

By that time a cholera epidemic was thus no longer automatically synonym for a catastrophe. It is in this view that we must understand Bruant’s song:

Paraît qu’on attend l’choléra,
La chose est positive.
On n’sait pas quand il arriv’ra,
Mais on sait qu’il arrive.

And indeed the epidemic would soon be under control and a very small number of cases would reach Paris. But according to Bruant, entrepreneurs, pharmacists and especially the clergy had made a profit from the anxious situation.

This is the 1935 version of the song by Stello.

The 1884 cholera outbreak was the last one to reach France. By then France had already been haunted by several more serious cholera outbreaks. The first murderous wave of cholera struck Paris in 1832. Hospitals were unable to keep pace with the volume of new patients and morgues were overflowing. Sounds familiar? It prompted the public authorities to clean up the capital, which was still simmering in its medieval juices. The fear for cholera would become a driving force behind urban planning.

Le ministère attaqué du Choléra morbus” by Grandville (1803-1847). in:  “La Caricature” du 4 août 1831. Lithographie. source: Paris Musées / Maison de Balzac (CC 0)

As one of the first solutions, Paris sought to supply its inhabitants with uncontaminated water. Therefore the City Council decided in 1833 to drill the first artesian well. Artesian wells are named after the French province of Artois where the first drilling of its kind was undertaken by monks in the 12th century. Water flows from artesian wells under natural pressure without pumping. However to get to the layer that contains enough water, one had to drill extremely deep in Paris. It was not before the 1830s that technical progress made deep boreholes possible.

Sheet music cover of 'Le Puits de Grenelle', song by Victor Parizot and Ernest Bourget. Published by Nadaud (Paris, s.d.)
Le Puits de Grenelle‘ song by Victor Parizot and Ernest Bourget. Published by Nadaud (Paris, s.d.)

The engineer Louis-Georges Mulot undertook to drill the first artesian well in the courtyard of the Grenelle slaughterhouse, just outside of Paris. It would take almost eight years of effort, slow progress, setbacks and a borehole of 548 meter deep, before water finally squirted out of the well in 1841.

On opening their newspaper the next day, the Parisians learned of the successful end of this scientific and technological adventure and thousands of them rushed to see the new curiosity.

Puits artésien de l'abattoir Grenelle
Puits artésien de l’abattoir Grenelle. Source

A poster was made to show how deep the borehole was, comparing its depth to the height of the Strasbourg Cathedral, Notre Dame of Paris, the Dôme des invalides and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

A rumour soon circulated, amplified by a press campaign, and scaring Parisians that their city would be engulfed in a landslide or that the waters of the Seine would seep through some crack and disappear completely into this chasm. Fake news is not a recent thing…

The water that came out of the well was lukewarm and alas somewhat muddy. Decanting was therefore necessary before it could be used.

To that purpose a three-storey cast iron regulator tower, 43 m high, was built outside the slaughterhouse. This tower looked somewhat like a mini Eiffel tower. It is said that it also functioned from time to time as a fountain. I couldn’t find a reliable source to corroborate this, only an engraving which makes me dream that this splendid fountain truly existed at one time…

At the start of the 20th century the aquatic construction deteriorated due to problems of water quality, pressure and silting. In 1904 the tower was —aptly— replaced by a statue of Louis Pasteur.

Monument à Pasteur, au centre de la Place de Breteuil, Paris (7ème). source: Siren-Com on Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

(*) Although Robert Koch isolated the vibrio the same year, the miasma theory of cholera transmission was still dominant in Marseille. In 1884, Koch went to Toulon and Marseille, where he isolated the vibrio bacillus in the stools of patients to convince the sceptics and to support two local biologists. Koch gave prophylactic advice and insisted in particular to not consume any uncooked food.


‘Ugène pass’ moi l’Odorigène’ by Yahne Lambray, published and illustrated by Joë Bridge (Paris, 1920).

Joë Bridge created the imaginary character Ugène, a Parisian Joe Sixpack from the Twenties. Joë Bridge was a French lyricist, cartoonist and sportsman. He was famous for his posters and press cartoons. Here is his beautiful portrait.

Joë Bridge in 1927, photographed by Agence ROL (source: Gallica-BnF)

He had his own advertising workshop and was one of the first to create a complete product marketing campaign by combining a brand mascot (Ugène), a rhyming slogan (‘Ugène pass’ moi l’Odorigène’), cartoons and a song. The product he promoted was a kind of pomander: the odorigène. This pocket-sized nasal inhaler was meant to provide a continuous olfactory shield against the bad odours of the city. It was a small flask containing perfumed oil and a wick to diffuse the fragrance by capillary action.

The odorigène. Source:

Joë Bridge’s advertising poster demonstrates how the odorigène could be very useful in a bad-smelling metro.

And —thanks to its antiseptic vapours— the odorigène also helped to prevent influenza and contagious diseases.

In L’Ouest-Éclair 26 October 1920.

The odorigène, what an invention! We’ll stop now and smell the roses*.

(*) “Stop and smell the roses” may be a cliché, but new research suggests it’s sound advice for finding satisfaction in life. A forthcoming study in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences suggests that appreciating the meaningful things and people in our lives may play an even larger role in our overall happiness than previously thought.