Happy birthday, Mr. Peanut

Published 10:31 pm Thursday, July 7, 2016


Some folks choose not to believe the story behind the genesis of Mr. Peanut — perhaps they consider it more bound by tradition than truth — but even those who consider the legend of his creation to be apocryphal agree with the rest of us on a couple of important points.

Here’s what we can all agree about: Mr. Peanut is celebrating his 100th birthday this year. He was the brainchild of a youngster from Suffolk who earned $5 for a series of rough sketches he submitted of an anthropomorphized peanut in various poses. That young boy, Antonio Gentile, was the child of immigrants from Italy, which gave him and his family a special connection to the Italian immigrant Amedeo Obici, who had founded the peanut company that variations of Mr. Peanut have been used to promote ever since. And that advertising icon has become one of the best-recognized and most well-loved product mascots in history.

The legend of Mr. Peanut — one that is shared by family members, Planters Peanuts officials and history buffs alike — tells the story of a contest young Gentile won in 1916, when Obici had schoolchildren submit drawings for a mascot. Historical evidence of such a contest seems hard to find, but the sketches are real, and they’re safely held at the Smithsonian Institution as treasures of Americana.

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But whether he won a contest or simply drew the sketches for his family friend, Mr. Obici, is, frankly, irrelevant.

What’s relevant is the icon that was created in the mind of a young lad in Suffolk 100 years ago and the staying power that boy’s idea has had. Mr. Peanut endures, even through the occasional ad campaigns that have marginalized him and made him something silly.

Happy birthday, Mr. Peanut. And thanks, Mr. Gentile.