Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Apple #75: Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches

I've recently been eating these more often, when I get up too late in the morning to have a real breakfast, so I make a PB&J because it's quick, and eat it in the car on the way to work. I'm struck anew, how tasty this combination is, and how filling. It makes me marvel, "Whoever thought this up was a genius!"

I figured that I wouldn't be able to find the name of one particular person who made the first Pt. But. & Jel. a reality. But what I didn't count on was realizing just how many other inventions had to come first, in order for the PB&J to come into being.

(Photo of PB&J sandwich from

  • The sandwich: John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, is widely credited with inventing this. In fact, he did not invent it, but rather made it popular. One day while at the gambling table in 1763, he ordered that slices of meat be brought to him between slices of bread, so that he could eat and still continue gambling for 24 hours without stopping.
  • The bread: The first mechanical bread slicer was patented in 1927, but the sliced loaves were unappealing to customers and didn't sell, until St. Louis baker Gustav Papendik (yes, that's his name) put the sliced loaves in cardboard trays for support within the wrapper. Then that sliced bread sold like hot cakes.
  • The jelly: Jellies, in general, are old, old, old. European crusaders brought jellies home with them from the Middle East in 1000-1200 A.D. Before that, all anybody knows for sure is that cane sugar, which would have been necessary to make jelly, was available in Baghdad in 700 A.D. Who knows who came up with jelly in the first place.
  • The peanut butter: No, it was not invented by George Washington Carver, who was doing peanut research in the early 1900's. Peanut butter was most likely invented by a St. Louis doctor (again, St. Louis!) whose name has since been lost to posterity. He got the idea that ground-up peanuts would make a cheap, easily digested, protein-rich food. He got a local merchant named George Bayle, Jr., to ground the peanuts for him. The first commercially-manufactured peanut butter was patented and sold by John Harvey Kellogg, of cereal fame.
  • The peanut butter & jelly sandwich: Nobody knows who first put them all together. The only things people can say for sure are 1) The US military used PB&Js in their Army Rations during World War II. It is possible that GI's first came up with the combination, out of the elements given to them in their rations, and the military then formalized it into a sandwich. It is also possible that the military came up with it themselves, or got the idea from someplace else. 2) No advertising or any other public mention of PB&Js has been found before the 1940s.
I'm just now realizing how mysterious the PB&J actually is. Nobody knows, really, who made the first ever sandwich. Where was the first jelly made, no one knows that either, let alone who was its first architect. And what was the name of the doctor who came up with the idea of peanut butter? And could the US Department of Defense be behind the first peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or did they have some other mind working for them behind the scenes? No one can say for sure...

And remember the Amazing Mumford, who used to be on Sesame Street and whose magic phrase used to be, "A la peanut butter sandwiches?" He seems to have gotten mysteriously squeezed out by the Count von Count, who used to laugh "Ah! Ah! Ah!" when he finished counting something. He no longer does this because the People in Charge at Sesame Street thought this made him too scary for today's children -- or was it because he had triumphed over Mumford and no longer needed to celebrate his victory?

Smuckers, The History of Peanut Butter and Jelly
Suman Bandrapalli, "How a PB&J Came to Be,"
Christian Science Monitor, March 3, 1998
"What is the history of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich?" Ask Yahoo

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