There are many claims about the origin of peanut butter. Africans ground peanuts into stews as early as the 15th century. The Chinese have crushed peanuts into creamy sauces for centuries. Civil War soldiers dined on 'peanut porridge.' These uses, however, bore little resemblance to peanut butter as it is known today.
In 1890, an unknown St. Louis physician supposedly encouraged the owner of a food products company, George A. Bayle Jr., to process and package ground peanut paste as a nutritious protein substitute for people with poor teeth who couldn't chew meat. The physician apparently had experimented by grinding peanuts in his hand-cranked meat grinder. Bayle mechanized the process and began selling peanut butter out of barrels for about 6¢ per pound.
Around the same time, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg in Battle Creek, Michigan, began experimenting with peanut butter as a vegetarian source of protein for his patients. His brother, W.K. Kellogg, was business manager of their sanitarium, the Western Health Reform Institute, but soon opened Sanitas Nut Company which supplied foods like peanut butter to local grocery stores.
The Kelloggs' patent for the "Process of Preparing Nut Meal" in 1895 described "a pasty adhesive substance that is for convenience of distinction termed nut butter." However, their peanut butter was not as tasty as peanut butter today because the peanuts were steamed, instead of roasted, prior to grinding. The Kellogg brothers turned their attention to cereals which eventually gained them worldwide recognition.
Joseph Lambert, a Kellogg employee who had worked on developing food processing equipment, began selling his own hand-operated peanut butter grinders in 1896. Three years later, his wife Almeeta published the first nut cookbook, "The Complete Guide to Nut Cookery" and two years later the Lambert Food Company was organized.
In 1903, Dr. George Washington Carver began his peanut research at Tuskeegee Institute in Alabama. While peanut butter had already been developed by then, Dr. Carver developed more than 300 other uses for peanuts and so improved peanut horticulture that he is considered by many to be the father of the peanut industry.
C.H. Sumner was the first to introduce peanut butter to the world at the Universal Exposition of 1904 in St. Louis. He sold $705.11 of the treat at his concession stand and peanut butter was on its way to becoming an American favorite!
Krema Products Company in Columbus, Ohio began selling peanut butter in 1908 and is the oldest peanut butter company still in operation today. Krema's founder, Benton Black, used the slogan, "I refuse to sell outside of Ohio." This was practical at the time since peanut butter packed in barrels spoiled quickly and an interstate road system had not yet been built.
In 1922, Joseph L. Rosefield began selling a number of brands of peanut butter in California. These peanut butters were churned like butter so they were smoother than the gritty peanut butters of the day. He soon received the first patent for a shelf-stable peanut butter which would stay fresh for up to a year because the oil didn't separate from the peanut butter.
One of the first companies to adopt this new process was Swift & Company for its E.K. Pond peanut butter renamed Peter Pan in 1928. In 1932, Rosefield had a dispute with Peter Pan and began producing peanut butter under the Skippy label the following year. Rosefield created the first crunchy style peanut butter two years later by adding chopped peanuts into creamy peanut butter at the end of the manufacturing process.
In 1955, Procter & Gamble entered the peanut butter business by acquiring W.T. Young Foods in Lexington, Kentucky, makers of Big Top Peanut Butter. They introduced Jif in 1958 and now operate the world's largest peanut butter plant churning out 250,000 jars every day!