Sunday, April 1, 2012
A Great-Great Uncle and a Nutty Idea
For those who live in Scranton, PA, the Times-Tribune featured the story on Friday, March 30, 2012 with a headline that read "An Empire Built on Nutty Idea." The Luzerne County Historical Society Museum in Wilkes-Barre is currently featuring an exhibit on the "Wonderful Story of Planters Peanuts." I plan to go. After all, this story is part of my heritage.
The son of a Baptist minister, Mario Peruzzi was born in Trevisa, Italy in 1875. From age 12 to 18, he worked in a department store in Rome in various roles. The next year (1894) he and his mother sailed to the United States from Naples, Italy to join his father (my Great-Great Grandpa Angelo) who had sailed some 17 months prior. As Uncle Mario felt the waves roll under his feet on the deck of the Kronprinz Frederick Wilheim,did he dream and plan and hope? Did fear play around the edges of his mind? Would America show him kindness? Perhaps he felt his heart beat faster when they finally sailed past the recently dedicated Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
His working experience in the Old Country paid off. Uncle Mario worked as a janitor, a wholesale importer, and a department manager in Hazelton and Scranton. He met Mr. Obici in about 1898, and the two immigrants started Planters Peanuts in 1906. Uncle Mario married and had two children. His wife died, and he later married his partner's sister, Elizabeth. By 1946 Planters was selling $60 million worth of nuts per year, world-wide. When Mr. Obici died in 1947, Uncle Mario took over as president until his death in 1955.
My grandma used to tell us about her visits to Uncle Mario's home when she was young. She and her sister took the train from Buffalo to Wilkes-Barre. Later, my Aunt Anita repaid their uncle for his kindness to their parents during the Depression.
Mario Peruzzi's story intrigues me. There are so many unanswered questions. When I grew up in the Buffalo, New York area, I never dreamed I'd someday live so close to where my relatives began their lives in America, so close to where my great-great uncle teamed up with another Italian immigrant with a nutty idea.
There's a reason my grandma insisted on Planters Peanuts for an after dinner snack when the whole clan gathered. Uncle Mario!
(Information gathered from family conversations and "Pennsylvania Profiles" by Patrick M. Reynolds, Warren Times Observer, July 1990)