Marcellus Gilmore Edson

Marcellus Gilmore Edson, chemist, pharmacist (born 7 February 1849 in Bedford, QC; died 6 March 1940 in Montreal, QC). In 1884, Edson received a patent for the manufacture of a peanut paste, which he named “peanut-candy.” Edson’s patent for peanut-candy has been recognized as a forerunner to the commercially available peanut butter or spread. (See also Legume; Oilseed Crops.)

Marcellus Gilmore Edson, chemist, pharmacist (born 7 February 1849 in Bedford, QC; died 6 March 1940 in Montreal, QC). In 1884, Edson received a patent for the manufacture of a peanut paste, which he named “peanut-candy.” Edson’s patent for peanut-candy has been recognized as a forerunner to the commercially available peanut butter or spread. (See also Legume; Oilseed Crops.)
A jar of peanut butter and peanuts, date unknown.

Early Life

There is little information about Marcellus Gilmore Edson’s life or career. Records show that in 1871, he married Agnes Houliston in Trois-Rivières, Quebec. By the later 19th century, Edson, his wife, and three sons were living in Montreal. Census records from 1881 also confirm that Edson was professionally employed as a “druggist.” (See also Pharmacy.)

Peanut-Candy

In September 1884, Marcellus Gilmore Edson submitted a patent application to the United States Patent Office. In the patent application he described his invention for the manufacturing of “peanut-candy.” This peanut product was made by roasting peanuts and grinding them between surfaces heated to a temperature of 100°F. When cooled, this product had “a consistency like that of butter, lard, or ointment.” According to Edson’s application, the peanut-paste could be combined with sugar and used as a “flavoring-paste…to form sweetmeats and candy.” (See also Confectionary Industry.) Edson was issued the US Patent Number 306,727 for the manufacture of peanut-candy on 21 October 1884.

Significance

While some contemporary sources identify Marcellus Gilmore Edson as the inventor of peanut butter, there is no evidence that Edson’s peanut-candy was commercially sold or advertised as peanut butter.

The development of the popular pantry item is commonly associated with the American John Harvey Kellogg. In 1895, Kellogg (the creator of Kellogg’s cereals) submitted a patent for the “process of preparing nutmeal,” a paste that could be made from peanuts or other nuts. (See also Wild nuts in Canada.) This product would be commercially sold as nut butter in 1896. From 1896 onwards, different companies in the United States began producing nut butter from peanuts. The term “peanut butter” appears to have first been used in an 1897 article by the Chicago Daily Tribune. By the early 20th century, peanut butter became a staple pantry product in households in the United States.

While Marcellus Gilmore Edson may not have invented peanut butter, he was at the forefront of what would become a popular food paste or spread in North America. According to the Peanut Bureau of Canada and Statista, Canadians purchased 61.71 million kilograms of peanut butter in 2020.