Kneading Chicle gum into blocks, around 1936, and a bit on the history of the chicle industry in Belize
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Friday November 1, 2013

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1918 receipt copy for .50 cents for a chicle license for my paternal great grandfather Elijah F Seay. Alexandra Jo Gault
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The National Institute of Culture and History was created by the Government of Belize in 2003 to bring together diverse government departments, which had historically worked to preserve and promote Belizean culture and to allow for the management of newer endeavors. We are committed to the preservation of Belize's ancient and historical era monuments and artifacts; the interpretation of Belize's documented, photographic and oral history; and the promotion of contemporary visual, literary and performing arts.
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Kneading Chicle gum into blocks, around 1936, and a bit on the history of the chicle industry in Belize

This was one of the two Largest industries that saw Belize struggle to nationhood. Thousands of Chicleros toiled for months in the Jungle to extract the Chicle Resin, Cooked it, mould it into Blocks, ready to be shipped to the Wriggley Company in Chicago, to convert it to chewing gum. Millions of blocks if this product were exported every year. A lot of this business was carried in San Ignacio and transported by River Boats to Belize City for export.

Chicle is made from the Sapodilla or Chicle tree (Manilkara chicle).

Sapodilla belongs to the family Sapotaceae. Besides M. chicle, two other Manilkara species are found in Belize. All have edible fruits (sapodilla), produce a lot of sap, and are otherwise very similar to each other with minor differences in the flower shapes. All three are referred to as chicle and/or sapodilla. Mature trees can be recognized by tall, straight trunks and machete scars.

The ancient Maya are believed to have chewed the latex from the chicle tree. It wasn’t until the 1880s, when Americans began investigating chicle as a cheap alternative to rubber, that they realized it was a good base for chewing gum. Several companies, including Wrigleys, began using it in their recipes.

In the next 50 years, the industry grew and chicle tappers (chicleros) covered Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala in search of “white gold”. Eventually, declining yields and increasing demand led the industry to replace chicle with a synthetic, petroleum-based substitute. The industry was gone from Belize by 1980.

History of the Chicle Industry of Belize

The chicle industry was vital to Belize’s early economy. Historian Don Hector Silva sat down with our team to reflect on the impact of the industry.

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