Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mr. Peanut is Italian? Who Knew?

Yes, it's true. The dandy Mr. Peanut, complete with his top hat and cane, is Italian-American. I guess his name is really Signor Arachide then.

Born in 1916, Mr. Peanut was the result of a contest. When the Planter’s Nut and Chocolate Factory moved from Pennsylvania to Virginia, factory owner Amedeo Obici (yes, another Italian) sponsored a drawing contest looking for a mascot. The winner of the contest was 12-year-old Suffolk, Virginia resident Antonio Gentile. He was paid $5 for his drawing.

Gentile drew a peanut (pretty much as we know Mr. Peanut today) with arms and legs. The top hat, cane and monocle were added later by a professional illustrator.

Mr. Peanut made his debut in the Saturday Evening Post in 1918. Today he is one of the best known advertising icons in the world. Mr. Peanut is widely considered to be the first advertising icon.

Not bad for a little Italian kid from Virginia.

Anyway, fast-forward 91 years to today, and we have the Virginia Department of Historic Resources approving a marker to be placed in Gentile's neighborhood, preserving Mr. Peanut's legacy and recognizing the neighborhood in which he was born as an historic neighborhood.

According to Tara Stainback, president of the local civic league, the league plans to erect a plaque commemorating the event:

“[Mr. Peanut] 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?”
Why not indeed?

But I have another question. Why not acknowledge Antonio Gentile? He's from the neighborhood. He invented one of the most recognized advertising icons of all time -- and one of the first. If it weren't for Gentile, no one outside of the neighborhood would have ever heard of the neighborhood. Why doesn't he get more recognition? Like a statue on Main Street, or the street in front of the Planter's factory named after him.

To be fair, Gentile is named on the plaque. As he should be. Here's the complete text of the plaque:

“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.”
The civic league is trying to raise about $2,000 to have the plaque made and installed.