Fitch's Tolu Chewing Gum Factory
Asa M. Fitch was a multi-patented inventor. Among his inventions were a wheeled plow whose depth could be adjusted, a box, and a children’s educational card game which included various bird and animal species. In Seymour, Indiana, his major manufacturing project involved a tolu-based chewing gum. Tolu is a fragrant brown balsam taken from a South American Tree. It can be used as a gum base like chicle.
Fitch’s first chewing gum factory opened in Lexington, Kentucky, in the 1870s. He purchased a new boiler for his factory in 1882. “Pronounced first class,” half an hour later the boiler blew up. The explosion killed engineer George Harding instantly. Twenty other employees were unharmed.
Two months later, Fitch appeared regularly in Seymour newspapers. Frequent reports of his gum sales caused remarks in surrounding papers. They complained about the “incessant yum-yum-yum-yum-yum-yum…about that tolu factory.”
A fire broke out in the Pabst Brewery warehouse just west of the factory in Seymour on the evening of November 23, 1891. The water in the hydrants was at only one-third normal pressure. It was ineffective at putting out the fire before it spread to neighboring buildings, including Fitch’s factory. The man who was in charge of the waterworks was off raccoon hunting, causing further delays. Fitch’s factory was (you’ll pardon the expression) toast. Fitch sued the Seymour Water Company, but the courts denied his suit.
Shortly thereafter, Fitch moved his business to Indianapolis, leaving the old factory site empty. Southern Indiana Railway attempted to confiscate his property, but Fitch filed suit against the railroad and received a $100 judgment for damages. He sold the property in 1922 about a year before he died.