Mr. Peanut marker approved

Published 1:00 pm Friday, January 2, 2009

Mr. Peanut, the sharp-dressed legume that has been a Suffolk icon for nearly 100 years, has taken the step from monocled advertising character to treasured historic resource.

At its Dec. 18 meeting, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources approved a new historical marker highlighting Mr. Peanut, the legendary advertising icon created by a Suffolk boy in 1916 after Planter’s Nut and Chocolate Factory sponsored a contest to develop a mascot for the company.

Hall Place Civic League Inc. sponsored the application for the marker, which is proposed for placement on Hall Avenue between South Main and Cedar streets. Tara Stainback, president of the civic league, said the marker is important, because the neighborhood’s place in history should be recognized and preserved.

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“It’s Mr. Peanut,” Stainback said. “He’s known around the world. He’s been known around the world for almost 80 years now, pretty much.”

Antonio Gentile, 12, who lived in the Hall Place neighborhood, created Mr. Peanut. The character debuted in 1918 in the Saturday Evening Post and is now ranked as one of the best-known advertising icons in the world.

“He was born in this neighborhood,” Stainback said. “So many people love Mr. Peanut. There are groups dedicated to Mr. Peanut. Why not know where he was born? Why not celebrate it? Why not mark it?”

Stainback said the group would like eventually to sponsor other markers in the neighborhood, particularly one in front of the Joseph P. Hall house, a 250-year-old residence whose first owner gave his name to the neighborhood. The house still stands on Cedar Street in the historic neighborhood.

For now, though, the group still needs donations to help the Mr. Peanut marker become reality.

The approximate cost of the marker is about $1,500-$2,000, depending on the vendor selected, Stainback said. Some members of the civic league already have chipped in their own money, but more is needed. Donations to the civic league are tax-deductible, she said. The grand unveiling of the marker is planned for the neighborhood’s 100th anniversary celebration May 2.

To contact the civic league, visit

The full text of the proposed marker is as follows: “In 1913, a peanut factory, known as Planter’s Nut and Chocolate Factory, moved from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to Suffolk. Amedeo Obici, owner of the factory, sponsored a contest to develop a “mascot” for the company in 1916. The winning drawing submitted by twelve year old and fellow Italian American, Antonio Gentile, who lived with his family in their home in this Hall Place neighborhood, was a peanut with arms and legs labeled, “Mr. Peanut.” Mr. Peanut made his world debut in 1918 in the Saturday Evening Post and is now ranked as one of the best-known advertising icons in the world.”

Other markers in the Hampton Roads area also were approved on Dec. 18. The marker for “The Battle of Craney Island,” to be installed in Portsmouth, recounts the June 1813 engagement at Hoffler Creek. The battle was pivotal in preventing the British from capturing “Norfolk, Portsmouth, and the Gosport Navy Yard, now Norfolk Naval Yard,” during the War of 1812.

In Norfolk, a marker will highlight legendary black attorney Oliver W. Hill Sr.’s Alston lawsuit, which “challenged the pay scale of public school teachers in Norfolk. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that discriminatory salary rates were in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.”

In 1957, Hill was also part of a team of lawyers that “successfully argued Leola Beckett v. Norfolk School Board, a case in which Judge Walter E. Hoffman ordered the School Board to integrate public schools by September” of that year.

For more information on the state’s historical highway marker program, visit