Could modern peanut butter have been invented in Ark City?

The late Edith Joyce Davis recalled as a child of 10 riding on a horse-drawn wagon as Arkansas City’s original “peanut butter man” made his rounds in the late 1890s.

Long before peanut butter became one of the world’s favorite spreads, R.H. Brock was delivering his tasty peanut paste throughout Ark City and to customers in Winfield and Geuda Springs. He also shipped buckets of peanut butter to customers in New York and Iowa.

For many years, Ark City residents have referred to him as the inventor of peanut butter, although that’s hard to prove. He certainly is one of the first people in the U.S. to have set up a peanut factory to grind peanuts into a buttery paste.

According to the National Peanut Board, the earliest reference to peanut butter can be traced back to the Ancient Incas and the Aztecs who ground roasted peanuts into a paste (nationalpeanutboard.org).

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg patented a process in 1895 for creating peanut butter from raw peanuts. He marketed it as a nutritious protein substitute for people who could hardly chew on solid food. Dr. Ambrose Straub of St. Louis, Mo., patented a peanut-butter-making machine in 1903.

But a Traveler writer, in its Jan. 25, 1899 edition, objected to an Oklahoma City Times Journal item about a “new article of food” in India, where a factory was put in operation for manufacture of butter from oil of peanuts.

“Wake up brother,” the Traveler stated. “Arkansas City has been using peanut butter for the past year, made by Rev. Brock, of this city.”

Edith Davis’ recollection of riding on Brock’s wagon as he delivered his new product was related by Terry Eaton Naden last Saturday at a meeting of the Arkansas City Historical Society at the Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum.

“He lived down the street from her, in a two-story house,” Naden said of Brock, whose family were devout Seventh Day Adventists. Brock also was referred to in Arkansas City Traveler stories as “Rev.”

Brock’s peanut butter had became so popular by the late 1890s that customers occasionally would come to the Brock family’s door to buy it on Saturday, when the family were observing the Sabbath.

“They did not work or deliver on Saturday,” Naden recalled Edith as saying. “However, Mrs. Brock was known to slip out the back door, go to he barn where the peanut butter was stored, and sell a jar to a customer begging for it.”

Naden provided a copy of an undated article in “The Farmer Stockman” that featured Brock’s peanut factory. Mabelle C. Flint’s article, headlined “Peanuts for Herman” tells the story of how R.H. Brock started his venture.

“In the little town of Arkansas City, southern Kansas, in the fall of 1889, a middle-aged man sat before an old-fashioned coal heater, head in his hands,” the article begins.

The man was R.H. Brock, and he had recently had his teeth extracted. But when his wife, Martha, asked if the pain from the operation was bothering him, he responded that no, not so much. What bothered him, he said, was never being able to eat peanuts again.

A resourceful woman, Martha Brock came up with a new idea that she tried out the next morning. After hulling a quart of freshly roasted peanuts, she got out her small coffee grinder, put a few of the golden brown berries in the hopper and began to turn the handle. A mass of oily particles dropped into the cup. She tasted it.

The taste was good but the texture too coarse. So she ran the particles through the grinder several more times. She took a thin slice of bread, applied the smooth paste and gave it to her husband to taste. He reportedly jumped out of his chair and cried, “Praise God, Martha, it’s peanuts. … Why, it spreads just like butter!”

Soon, the Brocks were letting their neighbors — and a young woman from New York who was in town visiting — try the peanut butter. Their reaction was so positive that an idea occurred to Brock. He would attend the upcoming Civil War veterans’ encampment, held each year in what is now Walnut Park, and sell his new product to campers.

It wasn’t long before Herman Brock sold his other business and gave his full time to making and selling peanut butter. He bought a horse and went up and down the streets selling.

Brock advertised his product in the March 30, 1900, edition of The Gate City Journal and Arkansas City Enquirer. He asked farmers along the Arkansas river valley to start growing peanuts to be sold to him to supply his peanut butter factory.

“I have established a peanut butter factory in Arkansas City and expect to use not less than 10,000 bushels the coming fall and winter and am willing to pay a good price,” he said in the advertisement.

A September 1903 edition of The Arkansas City Daily News reported: “The R.H. Brock Peanut Factory handles immense quantities of peanuts, peanut candy and peanut butter. The output for the last ten days has been over 2,000 pounds. The average sales are over $30 a day …”

A year later, in its Oct. 7, 1904, the Winfield Daily Courier reported that Brock was injured in an accident while on a delivery run in that city.

“R.H. Brock, the famous peanut butter maker of Arkansas City had a dangerous run-away in this city Thursday evening, about dark. One of the horses of his candy wagon got his head out of the bridle and the team took fright. … Mr. Brock was badly cut and bruised about the head a face, and fractured a bone in his shoulder.”

Brock recovered, but eventually sold his business. He moved to Florida in 1910.

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