One of the most widespread black invention myths, which has even insinuated itself into otherwise skeptical minds, is that peanut butter was invented by George Washington Carver. Some even seem to think that the invention of peanut butter is on a par with the printing press and penicillin. But as the Black Invention Myths website shows, peanut butter was not invented by Carver or any other black man.
Did George Washington Carver (who began his peanut research in 1903) invent peanut butter?
Peanuts, which are native to the New World tropics, were mashed into paste by Aztecs hundreds of years ago. Evidence of modern peanut butter comes from US patent #306727 issued to Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Montreal, Quebec in 1884, for a process of milling roasted peanuts between heated surfaces until the peanuts reached “a fluid or semi-fluid state.” As the product cooled, it set into what Edson described as “a consistency like that of butter, lard, or ointment.” In 1890, George A. Bayle Jr., owner of a food business in St. Louis, manufactured peanut butter and sold it out of barrels. J.H. Kellogg, of cereal fame, secured US patent #580787 in 1897 for his “Process of Preparing Nutmeal,” which produced a “pasty adhesive substance” that Kellogg called “nut-butter.”
Did George Washington Carver “discover” hundreds of new and important uses for the peanut? Father the peanut industry? Revolutionize southern US agriculture?
Research by Barry Mackintosh, who served as bureau historian for the National Park Service (which manages the G. W. Carver National Monument), demonstrated the following:
- Most of Carver’s peanut and sweet potato creations were either unoriginal, impractical, or of uncertain effectiveness. No product born in his laboratory was widely adopted.
- The boom years for Southern peanut production came prior to, and not as a result of, Carver’s promotion of the crop.
- Carver’s work to improve regional farming practices was not of pioneering scientific importance and had little demonstrable impact.
To see how Carver gained “a popular reputation far transcending the significance of his accomplishments,” read Mackintosh’s excellent article George Washington Carver: The Making of a Myth.