The Second Life of Gum

Gum’s unique appeal was its ephemerality and disposability. Even after the flavor diminished and the gum became too hard, people could keep its wrappers, trade cards or comics. The act of purchasing and chewing gum was merely a prelude to the rewards of graphic consumption. Collecting gum cards and other paraphernalia continues today. Joanne Brunet amassed holdings of over 4,000 specimens pertaining to gum in her Gum Gallery Museum in Arizona and Bazooka Joe baseball cards command thousands of dollars at auction. Additionally, antique gum displays remain popular artifacts for their relationship to brands and advertising.

Gum has also found an unconventional second life in art. The infamous “Gum Wall” in Seattle contained 2,350 pounds of accumulated gum as of 2015, marking it as a tourist attraction. The Italian artist Maurizio Savini creates sculptural works using previously chewed gum. These displays not only demonstrate how gum’s compositional make-up resists disposability, but how that complicating factor became its cultural trademark.


Meanwhile, companies continue to produce chewing gum in new flavors and with new marketing strategies. Today, chewing gum is largely made with vinyl resins or microcrystalline waxes; in fact, the Goodyear tire company manufactures Pliogum, a foodgrade SBR (styrene/butadiene copolymer) for many major gum brands. Wrigley’s continues to dominate the industry, while American Chicle’s chewing gum trust was purchased by Cadbury in 2003. Currently, over 500 companies make commercial gum around the around, and it remains a ubiquitous product in any convenience store. But that’s not to say that gum has lost all its personality. The chicle-based ingredients have recently undergone a resurgence of popularity among artisanal gum makers, and marketing campaigns continue to feature celebrity endorsements to connect gum with the next generation of chewers.

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