Amedeo Obici (July 15, 1877 – May 22, 1947) was an Italian-born American businessman and philanthropist. He founded the Planters Peanut Company.
Childhood, emigrating to the United States
Amedeo Obici was born in Oderzo, Veneto, Italy to Pietro Ludovico Obici and Luigia Carolina Sartori. His father died when Amedeo was seven years old, leaving behind his widow, young Amedeo, another son, Frank and two daughters.
In 1889, his mother's brother, Vittorio Sartori, invited him to come to the United States. The uncle, his wife and two children had earlier emigrated and lived in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Amedeo was unable to speak English. When he sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Le Havre, France in March 1889, his destination was written on a label tied through a buttonhole on his coat. Upon arrival in Brooklyn, New York, he rode a train to Scranton. En route to Scranton, he was misdirected, and got off in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania. The people in the train station took him to the fruit store owned by Enrico Musante and Enrico's daughter, Louise (whom he would later marry in 1916), as they too were Italian and could translate and assist.
While the Musantes worked to contact Amedeo's uncle, Vittorio Sartori, in Scranton, Amedeo stayed with the Musantes in Wilkes-Barre. Amedeo then went to stay with his Uncle in Scranton, but later returned to Wilkes-Barre, where he attended classes in the evening to learn English, and worked in the Musante fruit store.
Roasted peanuts as a snack food
When Amedeo returned to Wilkes-Barre, he worked at the Musante's fruit store, where they had a peanut roaster and a fan that blew the fragrance of the roasting peanuts out to the street to lure customers to buy fruit and peanuts. The time Amedeo spent with the Musantes inspired him to get his own peanut cart. Because roaster ovens were expensive, Amadeo made a rudimentary roaster from parts obtained at a local scrap yard.
To promote his peanut sales, Amedeo devised a promotion. He put one letter of his last name in each bag of peanuts, O, B, I, or C. He inserted only one letter "O" for every fifty bags, and the customers who got the bags with the letter "O" won a gold watch. The watch was an Ingersoll gold-colored watch, which he purchased for a dollar.
Amedeo saved his money, and in 1895, brought the rest of his family from Italy to the United States. With the remaining savings, he also was able to open his own fruit stand and peanut roaster.
Joining forces with Mario Peruzzi
Obici operated an eating-establishment which served oyster stew and roasted peanuts in a building in downtown Wilkes-Barre. There, in 1897, he teamed up with Mario Peruzzi, another Italian-American immigrant who was working for a wholesale grocer. Some time after Peruzzi's first wife died in 1910 (leaving two children), he married Obici's sister, "Lizzie".
Obici and Peruzzi founded Planters Peanut Company (unincorporated) in 1906 and incorporated it as Planters Nut and Chocolate Company in 1908. Planters owned four factories by 1930. Obici invented a new method of skinning and blanching peanuts so the roasted goobers came out clean.
In 1913, they built a new processing plant in the heart of peanut farming territory in Suffolk, Virginia. Part of Obici's success was in marketing and finding new products to add to Planter's stock.
Bay Point Farm, Obici Hospital
Louise and Amedeo Obici were unable to have children of their own, but they were active in holding frequent events for children of the community at their Bay Point Farm, and Louise's niece, also Louise Musante, lived with the Obicis from 1927 to 1930. Dairy farming was an avocation for Amedeo. He had a prized herd of Guernsey cows, and distributed Bay Point Dairy Farm milk in Suffolk.
Louise Obici died in 1938. Amedeo wanted to create a lasting memorial for her and by 1941 had settled on a hospital. In 1942, he formed a corporation, which was funded by a large endowment presented after his death. Amedeo continued to live at Bay Point Farm until he died in 1947, aged 69.
Although area has been reduced through sale, Bay Point Farm still includes the Obici's home overlooking the Nansemond River and some of the outbuildings, and currently belongs to the City of Suffolk. The area is now known as Sleepy Hole Golf Course, and the Obici house has recently been renovated. Bay Point Farm is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and on the National Register of Historic Places.
Death and legacy
Obici died in Suffolk in 1947. The generosity of Louise and Amedeo Obici to their adopted community and his workers left a strong imprint in Suffolk and the surrounding community.
Among Amedeo Obici's legacy in the Suffolk and surrounding community was the original Louise Obici Memorial Hospital on U.S. Route 460. The hospital was established by his brother-in-law Mario Peruzzi after Obici's death, using the funds Obici had left him for that purpose. The community landmark, dedicated to Amedeo's wife Louise, opened in 1951. Through his estate, Obici also planned and paid for another hospital in his original hometown of Oderzo, Italy.
In 2006, a newer facility replaced the 1951-era Louise Obici Memorial Hospital at a larger site on State Route 10. Obici Hospital is now affiliated with Sentara Healthcare which operates many health care facilities in southeastern Virginia. Another hospital was opened in southern Virginia with the Obici name in 2011.
Although Planters and the peanut industry are not the major defining activity of Suffolk as they once were, the Mr. Peanut character has become quite famous. A statue of Mr. Peanut is prominently displayed in downtown Suffolk. Another was a gift to Suffolk's sister city, Oderzo, Italy.
The company, now known as Planters, is owned by Kraft Foods. It is the Suffolk area's 11th largest employer.