Beeman’s Gum was concocted in the late 19th century by a physician in Ohio named Dr. Edward L. Beeman. The gum had the two primary ingredients of pepsin powder and chicle, and was originally marketed as an aid to digestion. In 1898 it was purchased by the American Chicle company, which was later absorbed by Warner-Lambert. The gum continued in production as Beemans up until 1978, when it was discontinued due to slow sales. Now the rights to this gum are owned by Cadbury, and it is sporadically available as a nostalgia product.
Perhaps you are thinking to yourself that the packaging and name seem vaguely familiar, but you aren’t really sure why. Beemans became popular with aviators in the early days of flight, as the antacid qualities of the pepsin helped to calm airsickness stomach issues in flight. It also had the inherent advantage that any gum gives a flyer of helping to equalize pressure in the ears. Whatever the exact reasons, it soon became affiliated with flight, and was considered by many to be a good luck gum. This good luck angle figured into the film ‘The Rocketeer’, and the blockbuster ‘The Right Stuff’. “Hey Ridley, got any Beemans?”
The retro-throwback versions of the gum no longer contain any pepsin, but it is pretty tasty if you can get your hands on some! Now that you remember why Beemans seemed familiar too you, you might be saying to yourself, so what exactly does this have to do with this weekend?
Yesterday marked a milestone of perhaps some minor interest that might have gone un-noticed by many. When doing a little research into the background of Beemans’ aviation tie-in, I came across a bit of a story from those early days of aviation to add a little depth to this post. Then yesterday I received a timely email by way of the Texas History Archive that covered that same story.
On June 15, 1921, a young lady named Bessie Coleman obtained her Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) pilot’s license from the cole d’Aviation des Freres Caudron at Le Crotoy in France. She was the world’s first African American woman pilot, and after flying in Europe, she returned to the US to start touring the air show circuit. After the first Curtiss JN-4 suffered an engine stall, causing her to crash in California, she was working to buy another JN-4. Edwin Beeman, who was fascinated by aviation and whose family owned the Beeman Chewing Gum company, gave her money for her final airplane payment.
With the new plane, Coleman and another pilot, William D. Wills, were scouting locations around Jacksonville, FL, for a parachute jump to be part of an airshow. Wills was flying, and Coleman was killed when she was thrown out of the plane when the controls jammed and the plane flipped upside down at 500 feet. Wills survived the crash, but caught on fire when a witness lit a cigarette after the crash. Once the fire burned the plane down to its frame, the cause of the crash was easily identified as a wrench jammed into the control gears.