The Beginning (and End) of Mr. Peanut


Amedeo Obici arrived to the U.S. alone at age 12. He would go on to build a peanut empire with the help of Antonio Gentile, a kid who created the monocle-wearing character in 1916.

In 1877, Amedeo Obici was born just north of Venice in the small town of Oderzo.

His father passed away when he was 7, and by age 12 he found himself alone aboard a steam ship headed to a Brooklyn train station.

Obici couldn’t speak English, and as his railcar rolled from the New York borough to Scranton, Penn. (where he was to live with his uncle’s family), he was misdirected and wound up in Wilkes-Barre instead.

By chance, he met a fruit store owner, Enrico Musante, who took him in.

The Musante’s would become Obici’s second family in Pennsylvania.

In 1906, by age 29, the up-and-coming nut purveyor had partnered with his friend, Mario Peruzzi, and founded the Planters Peanut Company.

A decade into the blooming venture, Obici held a contest to see who could create the most fitting brand mascot.

Antonio Gentile, a 13-year-old from Suffolk, Va., the peanut-growing capital of the state, began sketching possible entries for the contest. 

He drew a friendly and humanized peanut, who leisurely strolled with a dignified cane. A commercial artist added a top hat and monocle, and the universally-liked Mr. Peanut was born, according to Smithsonian magazine.

Over the last 104 years, the aristocratic, bow-tied peanut has greeted and pleased the masses.

However, the centenarian’s run came to a surprisingly abrupt and bittersweet end this week when Planters took to social media and announced that Mr. Peanut had sacrificed himself to save the lives of his paesani.

A publicity stunt or the end of an era? Only time will tell.

The company said his death will be tied to a Super Bowl commercial that will air on Feb. 2.

But, speaking of legacies, Obici’s and Gentile’s remain in tact.

Obici, an influential philanthropist, passed away in 1947 and left millions for the construction of two major hospitals, one in Suffolk and one in his Italian hometown of Oderzo.

Gentile became an Eagle Scout and graduated as valedictorian from Suffolk’s  high school class in 1920. He went on to the University of Virginia, earning honors and three degrees: undergraduate, medical, and a masters in science. He became a surgeon and started a family of his own.

No matter what happens to the monocle-wearing nut, the brand icon–in an admittedly unique way–symbolizes the creativity and drive buried deep within two Italian boys, who went from modest beginnings to the height of business, academia and medicine.

 

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