Brooklyn Public Library

Mobile AppDownload our Mobile App

eNewsletterSubscribe to BPL eNews


The Chewing Gum King

Sep 7, 2011 10:49 AM | 1 comment


1885-1886 Brooklyn Directory

In the late 1860s, Thomas Adams carried out a series of experiments with chicle,  which is extracted from Mexican Sapota trees, hoping he could make the rubber-like substance into toys, boots or bicycle tires. The trials were a failure. He was just about to throw the chicle into the East River when he remembered that his boss, who was the ex-dictator of Mexico, regularly chewed it.  Experimenting by adding sugar, he created a better tasting gum than any other available at that time.

How Chewing Gum is Made.  Brooklyn Daily Eagle. July 25, 1897

Adams and his son, Thomas Jr. began production of the gum in 1871 and in 1888 they opened a factory in Brooklyn, which was one of the largest of its kind in the world.  The Collection doesn't have a photo of Adams & Son chewing gum factory, but I was able to find one of the Federal Chewing Gum Factory, located in Bush Terminal.

Federal Chewing Gum Company

The gum was sold as "Adams' New York Gum No. 1- Snapping and Stretching." Flavors included Black Jack and Tutti-Frutti, and in 1888 the latter became the first gum to be sold in vending machines.


With his gum fortune, Thomas Jr. built a mansion.  Designed as a double house in the Romanesque Revival style by C.P.H. Gilbert, with one entrance facing 8th Avenue and the other facing Carroll Street, it is decorated with stained glass windows and dragon ornaments.  It was also the first on the block to have an elevator.  While strolling around the neighborhood, I took a photo of it:

Adams Mansion facing 8th Avenue

The story around the neighborhood goes that one summer the family came home from vacation to find their calls for the servants went unanswered. When they went to look for them, it transpired that the elevator had stuck. The servants were all trapped, no one had heard their calls, and they were all dead inside the contraption!  Residents of the building have claimed to hear voices crying in an Irish brogue, "Mary Mother of God help us!"   I wasn't able to find any proof that this actually happened, but it sure is an interesting tale.

In 1897, Thomas Jr. sold his home for $75,000 and moved to New York City.  Thomas Sr. retired from the business in 1898, leaving his sons in charge.  On February 7, 1905, he died of pneumonia at the age of 87.  He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery. 



1/30/2012 7:32:41 AM #

Regardless I am here by mistake but would just like to say cheers for a marvelous post and a all round exciting blog.

stained glass windows melbourne