The Accidental Artifact: Mint Julep Gum by Tom Huston

Rebecca Romanchuk, Archivist

One of the more unexpected objects in the State Archives’ Artifacts collection echoes a Kentucky Derby tradition–a pristine piece of mint julep (flavored) chewing gum, still in its unopened wrapper labeled, “Mint Julep Gum by Tom Huston.” This intriguing item was recently discovered in a box of bill files of the 43rd Texas Legislature dating from 1933, held at the State Archives. How and when did it get there? Who is Tom Huston? The story, oddly enough, begins with peanuts.

package of mint julep gum
Mint Julep Gum in wrapper, 1933-1940, ATF0481, Artifacts collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Online research, including census records, helped uncover the facts. According to a biography of Tom Huston, he was born in Alabama in 1889, and the 1900 Federal Census shows his family living on a farm in Wilsonville, Alabama. By at least 1903 they had moved to Texas, as the 1910 Federal Census shows the family living on a farm north of Henderson, with a seven-year-old son as the first of the children to be born in Texas. From the age of 10, Tom is shown in the census to be employed as a farm laborer (while also attending school) on his family’s peanut farm.

Huston’s weariness with shelling peanuts by hand inspired the ingenuity that would soon take his business career to great heights. A book about Henderson includes a photograph of a Tom Huston Peanut Sheller manufactured in that city, forged with the words “Made by Thomas Huston” on the device. Other images of this sheller found online show “Pat. Apr 4, 1918” below the crank. This appears to be Huston’s first peanut-related invention, and more would soon follow.

Relocating to Columbus, Georgia by 1919, Huston filed applications with the U.S. Patent Office for three devices in May of that year: a peanut digger, a hand-operated peanut sheller, and a power-driven peanut-shelling machine. The 1920 Federal Census lists him living with a family in Columbus as a boarder, and his occupation is given as a manufacturer of peanut machinery.

illustration of a peanut-shelling machine.
Illustration from U.S. Patent 1477648A, Peanut-shelling machine, John Thomas Huston, published 18 December 1923

Huston sold his peanut-farming implements to local farmers who often paid him with portions of their crop. The need to convert those peanuts to cash spurred his next inventions to market peanuts he roasted to sell: a narrow packet made of ribbed glassine paper with a seal to keep contents fresh, and display stands to show off the transparent packets to best advantage.

drawings of paper bag and seal.
Illustration from U.S. Patent 1603207, Paper bag and seal, Tom Huston, published 16 October 1926.

The packet was designed to dispense peanuts directly into the mouth, as seen in the illustration above. This avoided soiling fingers with oil and salt and was more sanitary than handling the peanuts before eating them. Huston’s knack for marketing helped him excel in the field of single-serving, prepackaged snack food. In 1928, he established the Tom Huston Peanut Company, which would also sell canned Red Robin peanut butter, peanut-butter sandwich crackers, and various peanut candies.

Huston consulted with famed agricultural scientist George Washington Carver about improving peanut crops grown by his suppliers, and the two developed a close business relationship and friendship. Huston’s company expanded to distribute products nationally, and sales were so good that by 1930 he was being hailed in Time magazine as “The Farmer Boy Who Became Peanut King.”

Huston’s success seemed to defy the Great Depression, but he soon ran into trouble. He began a frozen peaches business that failed, and debts caused him to lose controlling stock of the peanut company in 1933. After being sold many times, what was once Huston’s company continues today as a component of a major snack food corporation still selling products under the “Tom’s” name.

After his financial setback, Huston continued in the confectionery business. Among other products, he created Julep Gums and invented a chewing gum packaging design, though according to one source, the monopoly on the chewing gum market held at the time by the Beech-Nut Company caused Julep Gums to fail. The 1940 Federal Census shows Huston living in Miami, Florida, still as a manufacturer of confections, while his parents continued to live on their Henderson farm where their eldest son began his life of inventing.

Detail of illustration from U.S. Patent 2192472, Chewing gum package, Tom Huston, published March 5, 1940.]

Perhaps a stick of Huston’s Mint Julep Gum fell out of someone’s pocket while compiling the bill files of the 43rd Texas Legislature in 1933 or soon thereafter, where it remained for almost 85 years before being noticed. It has been added to our Artifacts collection as evidence of a remarkable businessman who made his start in Texas.

Huston kept inventing until he died in Miami in 1972. He was, as his widow said, “a seeker but not a finder. He was forever reaching for a nebulous goal that constantly eluded him.”

Artifacts Collection Highlights: Treaty Between Great Britain and the Republic of Texas for the Suppression of the African Slave Trade

By Rebecca Romanchuk, Archivist

Front cover of the Treaty between Great Britain and the Republic of Texas for the Suppression of the African Slave Trade, November 16, 1840. ATF0419, Artifacts collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

A few of the items in the Texas State Archives’ Artifacts collection are both artifact and document—a combination of physical object, often with aesthetic or artistic value, and informational record—that sheds light on a facet of our historical past. Among these are treaties between the Republic of Texas and other sovereign nations, created between 1839 and 1844 as formal and official documents of international diplomacy. These treaties are also described in our holdings as Texas Department of State treaties between the Republic of Texas and other nations.

The treaty pictured above, with its bright red velvet cover and decorative cord, is one of three treaties by which Great Britain recognized the Republic of Texas as an independent nation and was signed in November 1840. This particular treaty established an agreement between the two nations to suppress the African slave trade by declaring such trade as piracy. British or Texian merchant vessels discovered by either nations’ war ships to be carrying Africans for the purposes of enslavement were to be subject to capture and adjudication of their masters, crew, and accomplices. African men, women, and children found on board who were destined for slavery were to be immediately given their freedom and delivered to the nearest Texian or British territory. “Texian” was the adjective used during the Republic era where we would instead use “Texan” today.

First page of the Treaty between Great Britain and the Republic of Texas for the Suppression of the African Slave Trade, November 16, 1840. ATF0419, Artifacts collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

The treaty was signed in London, England, on November 16, 1840, by Lord Palmerston as Great Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and by James Hamilton, financial agent for the Republic of Texas. Hamilton had taken over the task of negotiation from James Pinckney Henderson, Texas minister to England at that time and the future first governor of the state of Texas.

Hamilton’s efforts resulted in three signed treaties between the nations, including this one to suppress the African slave trade, one of several such treaties Great Britain negotiated with other nations during this time. Great Britain had abolished slavery within its empire in 1807 and was working toward universal emancipation. The treaty was not approved by the Congress of the Republic of Texas until January 1842 due to politically motivated delay in sending the document to Texas. It became effective on June 28, 1842.

Though slavery existed and was lawful in Texas while it was a republic, and later as a state after annexation, prohibition of the African slave trade was part of the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, as it had also been prohibited by the United States Constitution since 1808. Even so, a small percentage of slaves in the republic arrived there due to illegal African trade.

Permanent residence of free blacks in the republic required the approval of Congress in each case. Before the Texas Revolution, the Mexican government had given free blacks full citizenship rights, but afterward, the Constitution of the Republic of Texas took away citizenship from those with one-eighth African blood and restricted their property rights. The “freedom” granted to those Africans who were found on vessels smuggling them into Texas was by no means full freedom as the white population enjoyed.

“All persons, Africans, the descendants of Africans, and Indians excepted, who were residing in Texas on the day of the declaration of Independence shall be considered citizens of the republic and entitled to all the privileges of such.” Detail from INV 6512, General Provisions, Section 10, Texas Constitution of 1836, Texas (Republic) Department of State records. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Click here for an image of the entire page from Section 10.

The treaty was nullified by the subsequent annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845. A similar treaty between Great Britain and the United States was finally concluded in 1862, though negotiations had gone on between the two countries since 1814 (with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent) and had primarily been hindered by disagreement over conditions for search and visitation of vessels. Slavery in Texas officially ended after June 19, 1865, when federal forces occupied Galveston two months after the end of the American Civil War and emancipation was announced by the Union commander of the Department of Texas, General Gordon Granger. Still, the devastating effects of slavery persisted and continue to echo in our society’s struggles to ensure social justice and the protection of civil rights for African Americans.

Setting the Texas Table: “Dishing” on the Artifacts Collection at the Texas State Archives

By Rebecca Romanchuk, Archivist

[Texian Campaigne plates, 1840-1850. ATF0031b, Artifacts collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.]

Some of us are enjoying the cooler weather we’ve been having in Austin lately and the way it makes us feel the holiday season has really arrived. For most, the holidays are made more festive and meaningful by the foods we prepare and share with others: traditional dishes at family dinners, potluck parties with friends and coworkers, cookie exchanges, and volunteering for or contributing to organizations that provide meals to those in need. Food truly connects us all.

At the Texas State Archives, we’re putting the spotlight on the history of Texas agriculture and foodstuffs in our lobby exhibit Setting the Texas Table, on view through May 2019. You’re cordially invited to visit in person to see this diverse and professionally curated exhibit of original archival materials and selections from our library collection, or take a virtual tour through the online version linked in the logo below. Be prepared to have your appetite whetted!

Of course, you can’t set a table without dishes and various other tableware items. The State Archives’ Artifacts collection includes a number of such pieces, many with connections to the family of Texas Governor Elisha Marshall Pease. These are easily searched for in the Texas Digital Archive; go to the Artifacts collection main search page and enter keywords in the “search within” box, or begin filtering using the options on the left sidebar. You can search for soup bowls, saucers, coffee cups and teacups, demitasse and sake cups, coffee pots and pitchers, plates and platters, and even a chafing dish (anyone hungry yet?). Or, note the artifact number (ATF0###) of an item that interests you in the finding aid and use that as your keyword to go directly to digital images and description of that item.

Many of the Pease table items are of two different Victorian-era designs: floral flow blue and what may be pink Sunderland lusterware (described as “orchid pink and white” in the Artifacts description). Both are varieties of transferware pottery made in England and commonly exported to the United States in the 19th century. The designs were produced by inking a copper plate onto which the design had been engraved, pressing paper onto the inked plate, then applying the still-wet inked paper onto the ceramic piece to transfer the design to it. This process was much less expensive than hand-painting. Imagine the dining table at the Governor’s Mansion or at Woodlawn, the Pease family mansion, laid out with a full set of either of these designs. Victorians adored vibrant color!

floral flow blue soup bowls

[Floral flow blue soup bowls, 1850-1900. ATF0232, Artifacts collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.]

floral flow blue covered tureen dish

[Floral flow blue covered tureen dish, 1890-1900. ATF0227, Artifacts collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.]

coffee pot with lid

[Coffee pot with lid (possibly Sunderland lusterware), 1850-1900. ATF0236, Artifacts collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.]

Take a close look at the transfer pattern on the pink dessert dishes below. This is the Mother’s Grave design, featuring a boy and girl, with an accompanying small child, gazing mournfully at a gravestone in a picturesque churchyard setting. Mourning pieces such as these were commonly used by Victorian households to memorialize a departed family member. These dishes honor the daughter of Governor and First Lady Pease, Carrie Augusta Pease Graham, whose children came to live at Woodlawn to be raised by their grandmother and aunt, after their mother’s death in 1882. Descendants of those children donated the Pease tableware to the State Archives. They said Carrie Graham’s children hoped that all these dishes would be broken so they wouldn’t have to eat from them any longer. It’s easy to empathize with that wish, though we’re lucky to have these objects survive to provide a glimpse into the personal experiences of the Pease/Graham family and the traditions of the time.

dessert dishes

[Dessert dishes (possibly Sunderland lusterware), 1850-1900. ATF0241, Artifacts collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.]

You can learn more about one of the Graham children, businessman and prominent Austin citizen R. Niles Graham, and his extended family from his collection of papers and photographs at the State Archives. Several dozen items once belonging to the Graham family are also part of our Artifacts collection.

Enjoy exploring all the charming tableware in the Artifacts collection and setting your own table to welcome others during the holidays.