Who Invented Peanut Butter, Really?

Allergies aside, peanut butter is a staple of American life. A PB&J is an all-star sandwich, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are arguably the best candy of all time, and my aunt used to make peanut butter fudge, which was extremely delicious. Peanut butter is beloved, but how much do we know about its origins? Where does this legume-based food come from? Who is the inventor of peanut butter, and why did they make it so it sticks to the roof of your mouth? Let’s investigate.

Who invented peanut butter?

In popular culture, it is often taken as a granted that the first peanut butter inventor was George Washington Carver. There’s a certain logic to this. After all, Carver famously discovered many ways to use the peanut and wrote a famous document entitled “How To Grow The Peanut And 105 Ways Of Preparing It For Human Consumption.” However, this document did not come out until 1916, and by then peanut butter was already a popular foodstuff. 

There are three main figures associated with the invention of what we think of as peanut butter. The first is Canadian pharmacist and chemist Marcellus Gilmore Edson who successfully patented a method for milling roasted peanuts between two heated plates to produce peanut “paste.” 

A few years after he filed his patent, a man in St. Louis named George Bayle began mass marketing his version of peanut butter. And a few years after that, an inventor known as John Henry Kellogg, famous for his cereal, created a peanut paste health food for patients who had difficulty chewing.

When was peanut butter invented?

Marcellus Gilmore Edson obtained his patent for peanut paste in 1884. George Bayle in St. Louis began selling his peanut butter snack food in 1894. And Mr. John Henry Kellogg, cereal magnate, obtained his patent in 1898.

Where was peanut butter invented?

As noted, peanut butter was invented almost simultaneously in three separate areas. But of course, almost simultaneous is not the same thing as simultaneous, so let’s say that peanut butter was invented in Montreal, since that is where Marcellus Edson lived when he filed the first patent. Although you could argue that peanut butter was invented in ancient Central and South America, as the Incans and Aztecs created a form of peanut butter—really more of a peanut paste—by grinding roasted peanuts.

A brief history of peanut butter

Now that we’ve gotten the basics out of the way, let’s dig into the history of peanut butter and how it became such a household staple. Peanut butter was first widely marketed by John Henry Kellogg for use as a health food, served mostly at expensive health care institutions. Thus, only the wealthy could afford peanut butter. However, as the process to make this treat became increasingly easy and inexpensive—including the patent of a peanut butter making machine in 1903—peanut butter was brought to the masses.

In 1922, chemist Joseph Rosefield patented smooth peanut butter, and after first working with Peter Pan, he eventually started selling his own product, called Skippy, in 1932. During World War II, peanut butter was popular due to its shelf stability and high protein content. Then, in 1955, Proctor & Gamble came up with Jif.

Today, peanut butter is enjoyed by pretty much everyone who is not allergic to it, and other nut butter varieties have sprung up too, such as cashew butter, almond butter, and sunflower seed butter.

There you have it: Everything I could find out about the history of peanut butter. Now you can glob it onto your sandwich with full knowledge of where it came from. Enjoy!

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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