This edition of the e-news announces the arrival of the Andy “Bubble Gum King” Paris Collection and an important addition to the William Chapman Papers. There is a curious connection between the two. In 1847, Chapman fought at the Battle of Buena Vista, where American forces, led by future president Zachary Taylor and General John Wool, combined to defeat the army of Antonio López de Santa Anna. (The Mexican general had also been defeated by Sam Houston’s forces at the Battle of San Jacinto during the Texas Revolution a decade earlier.) Santa Anna’s tumultuous political career (he was president of Mexico on eleven occasions) tossed and turned in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War, and by the 1860s he was in exile (surprisingly) on Staten Island in New York.
While there, he worked with local inventor Thomas Adams trying to develop an alternative to rubber. At the center of their endeavor was a batch of chicle, a natural latex derived from Mexican sapodilla trees. Santa Anna hoped to raise funds and return victoriously to Mexico but Adams was unsuccessful. Santa Anna left the chicle batch with Adams and moved on to plot elsewhere. However, while not suitable as a rubber replacement, Adams did discover that chicle made a great chewing gum—a product that subsequently became wildly popular and made Adams (not Santa Anna) a very wealthy man.
Fast forward eighty years, when gum was in short supply due to latex restrictions during World War II—enter McAllen businessman Andy Paris. A man who conducted business with winks, handshakes and cash-filled briefcases, Paris cornered the Mexican market on latex and flooded the post-war America with cheap gum. He was an instant success, but then (please forgive me) the bubble burst as both the IRS and then corporate rivals caught up with him. The Paris collection documents this very unusual episode in Texas business history, but also sheds light on popular culture, the movie industry, the use of Mexican labor in American business, and the post–WWII baby boom generation.
2019 has been one of the busiest and most fruitful years in the Briscoe Center’s history, and 2020 promises just as much. In the spring, we’ll be opening a women’s history exhibit and hosting a major World War II conference, as well as announcing several major acquisitions. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on these developments in our February e-news, and I hope you can join us for associated events. In the meantime, from everybody at the Briscoe Center, have a great festive season and a happy new year.
Don Carleton, Ph.D.
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History