Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Peanut Farming Invention Brought out of Its Shell

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Peanut Farming Invention Brought out of Its Shell

Article excerpt

PARROTT -- This small southwest Georgia town has rediscovered a forgotten local inventor, thanks to an eighth-grader who stumbled across his story while looking for a school project.

Bonnie West, now a 15-year-old student at Tri-County High School, was in middle school when she uncovered the story of John Thomas Thornton Jr., inventor of the peanut shaker, in 1998. Thornton's peanut shaker, originally patented in 1945, was later incorporated into a peanut combine that made harvesting the crop more efficient.

Thanks to West's research, Parrott now has Thornton's original peanut shaker on display at its museum and Thornton's descendants have received a Congressional Award noting his contribution to farming.

It all began in the cemetery behind Parrott United Methodist Church, West recalled. "I was walking in it one day and saw that it says on a tombstone that this man invented the peanut shaker."

The inscription intrigued her enough to ask her father, Gary West, about it. He recalled hearing the story of Thornton's invention from his father, W.M. "Monk" West, who was a good friend of the inventor.

"The main part of his invention still stands today. It has now stood for almost 60 years, and that's pretty amazing," Gary West said.

Gary West set up a meeting between his daughter and Thornton's son, J.T. Thornton III of Albany. The younger Thornton explained that his father, a mechanic, came up with the idea after seeing how farm workers harvested peanuts -- pulling the plants from the ground by hand and then shaking off the dirt.

The elder Thornton invented a device that would do that work instead.

"It was during World War II, so he had to build it out of scrap metal," his son recalled. "He tried it out, and it worked good."

In the early 1960s, the inventor began working with Lilliston Implement Co. …

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