Peanut butter, the everyman staple, which contains neither butter nor nuts (peanuts are legumes), originated as a health food of the upper classes. First created for sanitariums like John Harvey Kellogg’s Western Health Reform Institute, it satisfied the need for a protein-rich food that did not have to be chewed. Wealthy guests at those institutions popularized it among the well-heeled.
But there were economic pressures to expand peanut-butter consumption more democratically. Once the boll weevil devastated cotton cultivation at the turn of the century, Southern farmers were encouraged by George Washington Carver and others to adopt the peanut as a replacement crop. … Peanut butter was featured in the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and soon thereafter Beech-Nut and Heinz introduced it nationally. By 1907, thirty-four million pounds of peanut butter were produced, up from two million in 1899.