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John B. Curtis

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Subject: Chewing gum, John Curtis, Spruce gum, Deering Center, Maine, Gum industry
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John B. Curtis

John Bacon Curtis
Born October 10, 1827
Hampden, Maine
Died June 13, 1897
Resting place Portland, Maine
Nationality American
Occupation businessman
Known for made the first chewing gum prototype for commercial use
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Alice Charlotte Bacon
married 13 August 1878
Parents John Curtis
Mary B. Bacon
Relatives siblings:
Charles H.
Mary E.
Signature

John Bacon Curtis (October 10, 1827 – June 13, 1897) was an American businessman.[1]

Early life

Curtis attended the normal schools while growing up. He never graduated, but instead worked for the family and others to earn a living. He first was making five dollars a month, which was later increased to six and eventually he worked his way up to twenty-four dollars a month. In addition to being a farmhand he worked as a swamper - clearing underbrush and making roads through the woods.[1]

Mid life

Curtis came up with the idea of how practical it would be to make and spruce gum as a chewing gum. His family moved to Bangor in 1848, where there would be a better market for such a product. Over a Franklin stove in the Curtis home, they cooked up their first batch. The label they printed on their new product was "State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum."[1]

Curtis made a sufficient production of his gum and went to market it in Portland, Maine. He had made the first commercial production of chewing gum.[2][2][3][4] For the first two days in Portland he had no luck in being able to sell the new product to merchants. The third day he finally made a sale to a merchant, however it was a hard sale. The business in Portland was very little in 1848 and 1849. Curtis decided then to become a traveling salesman starting in 1850 selling other products like patent medicine besides Curtis' Spruce Gum. His motto was Give a man all you can for his money, while making a fair profit yourself.[1]

Curtis was quite ambitious and many times would travel well into the night just to get to the next town before his competition. This way then he had most of that town's business as the wholesale peddler - since the most active would get the principal patronage. The first year he traveled all throughout New England and had earned six thousand dollars. Eventually Curtis then advanced from being just a peddler to a commercial sales traveler and included the West into his territory. This meant to him the areas west of Maine as such regions as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota and Missouri. He traveled by water on the Erie Canal and down through the Mississippi River and Ohio River. He carried his supplies and took orders. He would even extend credit for as much as a year. In the United States he was one of the first, if not the very first commercial sales broker as a representative of an Eastern business marketing firm.[1]

Curtis's father would attend to the making of the chewing gum product while Curtis himself would sell it during his sales travels. His father would have his men pick the gum from the trees. After a week or two of collecting the raw product they would bring it out of the woods to the Bangor factory for processing. The business did quite well and the fifteen square foot processing area became too small. They then moved their chewing gum business to larger facilities at Portland, Maine. A few pounds of raw material was adequate in their first years, however later they were buying up to ten tons of material at once. This was considered very risky. One day Curtis even purchased $35,000 worth of raw gum material, considered probably the largest transaction in that type of business ever made in the nineteenth century.[1]

Curtis with his firm he held with his father, "Curtis & Son," had eventually increased the business where they were occupying a factory that was 51 x 145 feet (44 m) in size. The building was three stories high. They employed 200 people which turned out eighteen hundred boxes of chewing gum in a day. Curtis himself invented most of the machinery that was used in the automation process of the production of the chewing gum. He never took out a patent on any of his inventions. The firm instead kept secret their process of making chewing gum.[1] Some of the spruce gums "Curtis & Son" made were under such names as "American Flag," "Yankee Spruce," "White Mountain;" "200 Lump Spruce," "Licorice Lulu," "Trunk Spruce", "Sugar Cream," "Four-in-Hand," and "Biggest and Best."[1][5]

Later life

Curtis in 1872 also went into the dredging business. He worked on jobs that were from $50,000 to a half a million dollars. He was successful at this business as well. He later even went into the business of ship building. He opened the Curtis shipyard and built ten large ships. He also owned the controlling interest in the ferry between Portland and South Portland and a line of steamers until 1896. Curtis was even in the silver and coal mining business in Maine. In 1880 Curtis was in the farming business on a grand scale near Gothenburg, Nebraska. Here he owned over 1,500 acres (6.1 km2) where he raised Hereford cattle.[1]

Curtis bought in 1878 the largest and most expensively built house in Deering Center, Maine. During the last months of his life he took an interest in ancient Egypt and the pyramids. His creed was do good.[1]

Footnotes

Sources

  • Little, George Thomas et al., Genealogical and Family History of the State of Maine, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, New York, 1909
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