Tony Bilotti started out in a career as a chemist, and chewing gum became his life.

Now retired, Bilotti is credited with inventing a sugarless gum after long and countless tries at finding just the right way to make a sugarless gum taste as good as the regular kind."We chewed a lot of different gum formulas, an average of 15 sticks a day," said Bilotti in a recent interview. "Some of it was awful. It tasted like shoe tongues or cardboard."

Although Bilotti was part of a team of researchers trying to perfect a sugarless formula for Warner Lambert Co., company spokesman Marshall Malloy called Bilotti "a walking encyclopedia on gum."

Bilotti, 65, of Parsippany, is the man behind a recent exhibit on the history of chewing gum at the Morris County Free Library in Hanover.

Bilotti graduated from Notre Dame in 1947, and went to work for the American Chicle Co., working on improving the flavor and chewability of gum.

He said he had begun research on gum that could be used to improve oral hygiene, and, in 1953, got the assignment of perfecting a sugarless gum.

The formula discovery came in 1962, the same year American Chicle merged with Warner Lambert. Bilotti said "the usual studies and consumer work" followed to develop a gum that was good tasting and chewable.

While Bilotti received the world's first patent for sugarless gum in 1967, ancient Greeks and Egyptians chewed tree resin and Mayans chewed chicle, a resin from the sapodilla tree.

But chewing gum is an American invention, Bilotti said.

The idea started when American businessman Thomas Adams Jr. met Mexican President General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna following the Mexican-American War. Adams was persuaded to import chicle to use as a rubber substitute for making tires for carriages.

The rubber experiment failed but Adams decided to use the chicle to manufacture gum in the United States. His first patent for gum was in 1871.

"Adams was in a store and saw a young girl buy paraffin wax to chew," said Bilotti. After hearing that chewing substances sold well, Adams got the druggist to carry chicle balls, which he manufactured, Bilotti said.

"The chicle balls had hardly any taste," Bilotti said.

Adams and other chewing gum giants of the 19th century, Dr. Edward E. Beeman and Jonathan Primley founded American Chicle in 1899.

Various flavors and textures were added over the years, and bubble gum was first marketed in 1928, Bilotti said.