The Truth About
The origins of North America’s favourite sandwich spread are lost
in a confusing mess of myth-making and repetition
Do a search for the inventor of peanut butter.
Most sources will give credit to either polymath George Washington Carver or Montrealer Marcellus Gilmore Edson. Almost all, though will say Dr. John Harvey Kellogg patented a “Process of Preparing Nut Meal” in 1895 — and they’d be wrong.
After finding a mention of Kellogg’s patent for nut meal, I wanted to read the original document. Naturally, I went to the U.S. patent office’s website and searched.
My first try was for “Kellogg and 1895,” which turned up too many results; a narrower search for “Kellogg” and an issuing date of 1895 turned up no results. Searches using the same date but replacing Kellogg with either “nut” or “meal” also came up empty. Finally I found a promising hint in the last result of search for “Kellogg and peanut.”
There, as part of a patent for sliced peanut butter, was a link to one issued directly to Kellogg himself.
Patent number 604,493 was granted to John H. Kellogg, of Battle Creek, Michigan, in May 1898, a little more than a year after applying for it.
In his filing for a “Process of Producing Alimentary Products,” Kellogg proudly explained how this “new improved product is made from edible nuts, preferably peanuts and such other nuts as can be easily balanced or freed from skins, and is a semisolid, having about the same consistence as hard butter or soft cheese.”
This was the patent everyone was referring to.
This 1898 document proved Kellogg did h0ld one of the first patents for peanut butter.
Yet every published source crunched and sorted by Google mentions Kellogg received an 1895 patent for “nut meal” instead. Even the National Peanut Board gets it wrong. In the rare instances when a source is cited, most refer to either an About.com article or a book called Creamy & Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Food which quotes a Kellogg spokesperson named Diane Dickey. She, in turn, cites “the records.”
Why 1895? Who knows. Maybe someone long ago misread an “8” as a “5.” (Rephrasing the patent’s title, though, might have just been smart marketing.)
Regardless of the reasons, when everyone gets the history of something as simple as peanut butter wrong, you might be tempted to despair.
Perhaps, though, you’ll be inspired to set the facts right by editing Wikipedia entries and writing hundreds of words on the subject.
Or maybe you’ll be wise enough to sit back and remember all facts can be fictions as you enjoy another sandwich spread thick with such an agreeable article of food as peanut butter.