Slice of History: A Pizza Museum is Coming to Chicago

Courtesy of U.S. Pizza Museum
Courtesy of U.S. Pizza Museum

In the United States, pizza may as well be its own food group. More than 75,000 pizzerias help move an estimated $45.1 billion in pies annually. According to the Department of Agriculture, 13 percent of Americans eat pizza on a given day, while four percent of kids who grab a slice are eating it for breakfast.

If your interest in pizza extends beyond consumption and you want to achieve a better understanding of its history and influence in modern civilization, then the U.S. Pizza Museum should be on your to-do list the next time you visit Chicago's South Loop. Opening August 10 at the Roosevelt Collection at 1146 South Delano Court West, the museum will present a curated collection of vintage pizza boxes, menus, ads, and other items of historical merit. (Yes, that means several Noid-related artifacts will be on display.)

A look at some of the items in the collection of the U.S. Pizza Museum
Courtesy of U.S. Pizza Museum

Founded by pizza historian Kendall Bruns, the U.S. Pizza Museum grew out of a series of pop-up events and an online presence, and will now join the Roosevelt Collection's assembly of shopping and tourist destinations. According to Bruns, pizza has been long overdue for a critical examination.

"As America's favorite food, pizza provides an easy entry point to learn about history, pop culture, and the people behind the pizza," he said in a press release. "We expect the exhibits to have a nostalgic effect on viewers, and I'm thrilled to work with Roosevelt Collection to bring it to life. Visitors will benefit from free entry to the museum and an ongoing calendar of activities."

The Pizza Museum will be open Fridays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. local time and weekends from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. through October, with plans to continue operation if demand warrants. While the museum doesn't actually make pizza, Aurelio's of South Loop will be providing pies during opening weekend.

13 Salty Facts About Mr. Peanut

Mr. Peanut attends the 90th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Mr. Peanut attends the 90th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Noam Galai/Getty Images

On January 22, 2020, in a morbid bit of pre-Super Bowl marketing, Planters took to the internet to announce that Mr. Peanut—the dapper little legume who has been peddling Planters peanuts for more than a century—has died at the ripe old age of 104. In order to pay tribute to the literal face of America's peanut industry, we’ve assembled some facts and history about this shell of a man.

1. Mr. Peanut was created by a 14-year-old.

Mr. Peanut wasn’t hatched from a cynical ad firm brainstorming session. His adorable visage was the product of a 14-year-old from Suffolk, Virginia named Antonio Gentile. Gentile entered a contest held by the Planters Chocolate and Nut Company in 1916 to crown a new peanut mascot. The aspiring Don Draper sketched out a doodle of a “Mr. P. Nut” strutting with a cane. After getting freshened up by a graphic designer—including donning his trademark spats and monocle—Gentile’s design was picked up and he was awarded $5.

(Postscript: The Gentile family became friendly with the Obici family, owners of the Planters empire, and Gentile’s nephews once suggested that the Obicis helped put him through medical school; he became a surgeon.)

2. Mr. Peanut has a full name.

According to Planters, Mr. Peanut is something of an informal moniker. The full name given to him by Gentile was Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe.

3. Mr. Peanut once weighed more than 300 pounds.

Although peanuts can be a highly sensible snack, full of healthy fats and protein, they can also be a source of too many calories. Case in point: the 300-pound cast iron Mr. Peanut, a display item made in the 1920s and 1930s. Planters would use the heavyset mascot on top of a fence post at their Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania factory.

4. Mr. Peanut survived the Great Depression.

During the economic downturn of the 1930s, things like “snacks” and “nutrition” suddenly became optional rather than expected. Though many food products struggled to cope with slimmed-down wallets, Planters plastered Mr. Peanut on bags of peanuts that sold for just five cents each. Declaring it a “nickel lunch,” the company was able to use the affordability of peanuts as a selling point.

5. Mr. Peanut went to war.


Getty Images

Specifically, World War II. When the U.S. entered the conflict, Mr. Peanut volunteered for service as a character featured on stamps and propaganda posters.

6. Mr. Peanut is a monocle enthusiast.

Food mascots rarely take sides on hot-button issues, but Mr. Peanut made an exception in 2014 when a fashion movement threatened the return of the monocle. After getting wind of men wearing the single-lens reading accessory, Mr. P issued a press release stating that he took notice of the “hipsters” following in his “stylish footsteps” and implied few could pull it off. The monocle has yet to fully re-emerge.

7. Mr. Peanut's Nutmobile predates the Wienermobile.


Planters

Though the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile usually takes most of the engine-driven PR credit, Planters actually introduced the NUTMobile, a shell-shaped portable advertising car, in 1935—a year prior to the Wienermobile’s introduction. A Planters salesman designed and drove the car, adding a decorative Mr. Peanut passenger behind him. (Mr. Peanut did not operate the vehicle because Mr. Peanut is not real.)

8. Mr. Peanut is in the Smithsonian.

How influential has Mr. Peanut been to the food industry? In 2013, the Smithsonian admitted his cast-iron incarnation into its National Museum of American History. The statue was exhibited as part of a series on marketing for the institution’s American Enterprise series; Antonio Gentile’s family also donated his original sketches for posterity.

9. Fans didn't want Mr. Peanut to change.


Planters

For the company's 100th anniversary in 2006, Planters held an online vote to see whether peanut aficionados wanted to see Mr. Peanut experiment with a sartorial change: Fans could vote for adding cufflinks, a bow tie, or a pocket watch. In the end, the ballot determined they wanted to keep him just the way he is.

10. Mr. Peanut has a fan club.

Mr. Peanut has appeared in so many different licensed products in an effort to expand his popularity—clocks, peanut butter grinders, and coloring books among them—that a collector was having trouble keeping track of them all. In 1978, Judith Walthall founded Peanut Pals, a Mr. Peanut appreciation club that circulates a newsletter and holds conventions. You can join for $20—practically peanuts.

11. Mr. Peanut has remained mostly silent.


mazmedia via YouTube

Mr. Peanut was already a few decades old when television came into prominence, which afforded him an opportunity to jump off packaging and magazine pages. Despite the new medium, Planters decided they liked him best when he didn’t talk—at all. The mascot was silent all the way up until 2010, when Robert Downey Jr. was commissioned to deliver his first lines. Bill Hader took over voicing duties from Downey in 2013.

12. Mr. Peanut found a buddy.

When Planters unveiled an updated Mr. Peanut for contemporary audiences in 2010, he was sporting a grey flannel suit as well as a new sidekick—Benson, a shorter, single-peanut tagalong. A Planters spokesman clarified to The New York Times that the two are “just friends” and live in separate residences.

13. In the 1970s, Mr. Peanut ran for Mayor of Vancouver.

Amid a burgeoning alternative art scene in 1970s Vancouver, a performance artist named Vincent Trasov decided it would be interesting to run for mayor of the city while in the guise of Mr. Peanut. Hailing from the “Peanut Party” and meant to be a commentary of the Nixon-era absurdities of politics, he was endorsed by novelist William S. Burroughs and received 2685 ballots—3.4 percent of the vote.

Here's Why the Coke at McDonald's Is So Good

Mario Tama, iStock via Getty Images
Mario Tama, iStock via Getty Images

Not every cup of Coke is created equal. If you're a McDonald's customer who can't resist ordering a large Coke with your Big Mac and fries, you may suspect that the soda from the fast food chain is superior to versions found elsewhere. It's not childhood nostalgia warping your taste buds: McDonald's takes steps to ensure their Coke really does taste better than the competitor's.

Coca-Cola is serious about preserving its secret formula, and the drink you get at McDonald's is made from the same ingredients that you'd get in a can from a vending machine. The difference lies in the way McDonald's treats those ingredients right up to the moment they fill your cup.

Most Coke syrup is shipped to restaurants in plastic bags, but for McDonald's, one of the company's most profitable partners, Coca-Cola sends the product in stainless steel drums. This material is better at preserving the ingredients and keeping them fresh by the time they arrive at their destination.

The second reason the Coke at McDonald's tastes so good has to do with temperature. Instead of storing water for the soda in the soda fountain like many restaurants do, the chain uses insulated tubes to transport it from the fridge directly to the dispenser when it's ready to be poured. In addition to tasting great, colder liquid is also better at trapping CO2 bubbles and keeping drinks fizzy for longer.

A major difference between the Coke you have at McDonald's and a Coke you might have at home is that the McDonald's soda is nearly always enjoyed with ice and a straw. These are the final elements that make its Coke special. McDonald's knows that Coke will eventually get watered down in a cup filled with ice, and it's tweaked its syrup-to-water ratio to account for this. That means the best sip of Coke may come after your ice has had a few minutes to melt.

Even the straws at McDonald's were engineered to maximize your soda enjoyment. They're slightly wider than regular straws, so that first flavor-packed sip is able to hit more of your tongue at once.

Not everything McDonald's puts out has been as well-received as its Coke. Some of the biggest failures from the company's history include the McD.L.T., the Arch Deluxe, and broccoli-flavored bubblegum.

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