Gone are days when you could buy Red Rooster gum for a nickel

Published 10:32 am Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Star Photo/Brandon Hicks This pack of gum was manufactured by Dixie Chewing Gum Co. located in Elizabethton.

Star Photo/Brandon Hicks
This pack of gum was manufactured by Dixie Chewing Gum Co. located in Elizabethton.

Elizabethton was a unique town in the early part of the last century. The 1890s and the first two decades of the 1900s have been unmatched in the history of the town. It was a new town in those days, bustling with activity as it expanded westward across the Doe River.

Hydroelectric power came to the area via Wilbur Dam. Free delivery of mail began in the city; new businesses opened and several small industries operated in Elizabethton. Among early industries in the city were the Watauga Flour Mill, later known as Power City Milling Co., the Doe River Overall Co., the Tennessee Cotton Mill, which later consolidated with the Tennessee Line and Twine, the Elizabethton Shoe Co., the Empire Chair Co., the Tennessee Chair Co., the Doe River Woolen Mill and several lumber companies.

One of the most unique businesses in the history of the town was the Dixie Chewing Gum Co. Located on E Street in a two-story building in the vicinity of the present-day law office of T.J. Little, the company ceased operation in the mid-1930s.

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The company apparently operated in Elizabethton in the 1890s and re-located to North Carolina around the turn of the century. However, the business moved back to Elizabethton around 1926.

Records at the Carter County Courthouse indicate a charter of incorporation was filed in 1926 by T.J. Ray, M.F. Hopkins, S.M. Ray and E.C. Alexander for the Dixie Chewing Gum Co. to manufacture and sell chewing gum, candies, confections and flavoring extracts.

In 1928 the company was taken over by the American Chewing Gum Co.. At that time the company was manufacturing up to 39,000 packages of gum per day. The Mountain Tea and Mountain Grape brands were already on the market.

Company officers at the time of takeover were E.C. Alexander, president, and J.E. Stack and J.C. Summers of Johnson City as vice presidents.

Alexander was a local businessman, Chamber leader and was very civic-minded.

M.F. Hopkins, among the earliest operators of the plant, also dealt in herbs and real estate. He was owner of the M.F. Hopkins Root and Herb Co. and was a former mayor of Elizabethton.

Many local herb dealers supplied Hopkins with birch oil, teaberry leaves and peppermint to flavor his gum.

For a time the primary dealers for the gum were slot machine owners in the city. A nickel placed in the machines would net the player a pack of Red Rooster chewing gum or peppermint lifesavers along with chips to play the machines.

In stores, the chewing gum sold for no more than a nickel a pack. Cards advertising the gum contained little rhymes. One such rhyme was: “There’s a red rooster as you know. He had a wife as white as snow. It so happened that her name was Mint, and he put pep in her peppermint. It brightens her eyes. It gives her pluck. It whitens her teeth, and makes her cluck. Red Rooster Chewing Gum.”

Several oldtimers remember buying the chewing gum “trimmings” by the pound, which were placed in a barrel inside the store by the door.

The late Lynn Goddard used to tell stories of how, on the way to the Bonnie Kate Theater, he would stop by the chewing gum factory and purchase a bag full of the trimmings.

Long gone are the days when Elizabethton was a manufacturing town, and long gone are the small packs of Red Rooster chewing gum. Also gone are the days when a pack of chewing gum could be purchased for five cents.