Mr. Peanut, the mascot of Planter’s Peanuts store, greeted visitors on the Boardwalk and quickly became an Atlantic City icon.
Planters Peanut was founded by Amedeo Obici in 1896. Within a decade, he established the Planters Nut Company. Shortly after establishing several peanut factories in the United States and in other countries like Canada, the National Peanut Corporation was formed as a wholly-owned subsidiary to operate peanut stores in principal U.S. cities. Probably the best known of these stores was the one on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.
Located across from Steel Pier for many years, the store drew in visitors with the aroma of roasting nuts. Said local historian Allen “Boo” Pergament, “when you’d smell those roasting nuts coming out of the store, you just had to have a bag.”
In 1916, Mr. Peanut was born from the drawing of 14-year-old Antonio Gentile of Suffolk, Virginia. He drew a friendly, humanized peanut tumbling, serving nuts, and walking with a dignified cane. Mr. Peanut began to walk the Atlantic City Boardwalk in 1930, silently advertising the 5-cent bag of roasted peanuts known as “The Nickel Lunch.” He would greet visitors for years to come in front of the Planters store, welcoming visitors to Atlantic City. In 1964, he rode a donkey down the Boardwalk with flag in hand to greet the delegates during the Democratic National Convention. The store closed in 1978, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino now stands where the store used to be.
On July 13, 2006, a bronze statue of Mr. Peanut sitting on a bench was placed at Kennedy Plaza. The statue was created by sculptor Sean Roach to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Planters Peanuts and the 90th birthday of Mr. Peanut. It was later moved to the Atlantic City Arts Center on Garden Pier, but was removed after vandals damaged it.
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The Movie Star!
In 1988, Atlantic City’s Mr. Peanut appeared in the movie Beaches. Local historian Vicki Gold Levi was his escort during the film’s shooting, to enforce the strict code as to what Mr. Peanut could or could not do.
For example, the directors of Beaches originally planned for Mr. Peanut to flirt with some girls on the Boardwalk in the film. However, Mr. Peanut was always silent. Even as visitors and hecklers would try to engage him in conversation, Mr. Peanut did not dignify them with a reply.
Mr. Peanut also always wore white gloves and long black pants and black dress shoes. No exceptions, even on the hottest of summer beach days!