On April 9, 2021, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed off on SB222, formally declaring the pecan Georgia’s Official State Nut. However, back in 1976, it was another Georgia grown nut — actually, a legume — that would help make a former Georgia governor President of the United States. Of course, we’re talking about Jimmy Carter and the lowly peanut. With that in mind, and with President’s Day coming up on the 21st of this month, we thought we’d take a road trip across Georgia and get a good look at the famous Jimmy Carter Peanut Statue in Plains, Georgia

When the President Was Just a Little Peanut

James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., was born on October 1, 1924, at the Wise Sanitarium (now known as the Lillian G. Carter Nursing Center) in Plains where his mother Lillian worked as a nurse. (Fun fact: Jimmy Carter was the first U.S. President to be born in a hospital.) His father, James, Sr., was a farmer who began growing peanuts on the family’s 360-acre farm when Jimmy was still young. In fact, one of Jimmy’s first jobs was selling boiled peanuts in downtown Plains at the age of five.

Image: Stuckey’s Corp./Stephanie Stuckey

The Carters were by no means rich. However, with three acres of land producing about a ton of peanuts at $60 a ton (around $1,000 in 2022), their peanut farm made them a pretty good living. However, this still meant that when peanut harvesting time came around, every healthy body was needed to harvest the goobers, and Jimmy was no exception. As Carter himself once said, “This was a big and important operation and involved all the men on the place.” Carter worked on the farm from the time he was a young boy until he graduated high school in 1941.

After high school, young Jimmy would eventually live out his childhood dream of attending the U.S. Naval Academy in 1943. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree from the academy in 1946, Jimmy would begin his career as a U.S. Navy officer, serving at various locations around the world and often accompanied by his new bride, Rosalynn. Carter’s naval career would be cut short, however, when his father died in 1953. Jimmy would resign from the U.S. Navy that year and return to Plains to take over his father’s peanut farm.

“My Name’s Jimmy Carter and I’m Running for President”

In the early 1960s, racial tolerance and integration were hot topics in the South. Jimmy was for integration but often kept his views to himself. However, after becoming a well-known member of the Baptist Church and chairman of the Sumter County School Board in 1961, Jimmy could no longer remain quiet. The next year, a State senate seat would open up; 15 days before the election, Carter announced his candidacy. After a contested ballot count, Carter eventually won the seat.

In 1966, Carter made a failed attempt at a run for Georgia governor, losing to Lester Maddox. However, another attempt in 1970 saw Jimmy emerge victoriously.  Still, Carter had his eyes on an even bigger prize and decided to run for president in 1976.

Former President Jimmy Carter and his big, toothy smile that inspired the one on the now famous Jimmy Carter Pecan Statue.
Image: Public Domain

During his run for election, few people had heard of Jimmy Carter, prompting his opponents to often ask, “Jimmy, who?” However, his campaign used this to Carter’s advantage, and Carter would often begin his stump speeches with, “My name’s Jimmy Carter and I’m running for President.”

People seemed to like his homespun appeal and big, toothy smile. To help him keep this down-home persona, his campaign bolstered his image as a simple peanut farmer from Georgia. As a result, people started associating the peanut with Carter.

 The Jimmy Carter Peanut Statue

It was during Carter’s presidential campaign that the Indiana Democratic Party sought to support Carter as he campaigned around the Hoosier State by erecting a 13-foot-tall peanut statue in Indiana. This homage to Carter’s humble beginnings was made using a variety of material including wooden hoops, chicken wire, aluminum foil, and plastic. It also includes Carter’s famous toothy grin.

Sometime after his successful presidential run, the statue was moved to Plains where it stood in front of the town’s train station. However, after nearly being destroyed by a car accident in 2000, the Jimmy Carter Peanut Statue was repaired and now sits along Georgia State Route 45 in Plains, just down from Maranatha Baptist Church where Carter and Rosalynn still attend Sunday services.

Stuckey’s CEO Stephanie Stuckey and our good friend Jacob the Carpetbagger stand next to the Jimmy Carter Peanut Statue.
Image: Stuckey’s Corp./Stephanie Stuckey

Though not the world’s largest peanut (that would be located a couple of states away in Durant, OK), it is certainly a roadside attraction worthy of a photo-op.

(Oh, and in case you’re wondering about that hole in the back, it was put there by the CIA to make sure it contained no explosives or would-be assassins — a kind of Trojan peanut scenario, we guess.)

Also Visit the Nearby Jimmy Carter National Historic Site

After a tumultuous four years as president, Jimmy Carter lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan and returned to Plains where his humanitarian work since leaving office has been the highlight of his post-presidential career. At 98, he is the nation’s oldest surviving president since leaving office. So, while you’re in Plains checking out the Jimmy Carter Peanut Statue, why not stop by Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, which includes the former president’s boyhood farm from which came the humble peanut that helped make all his dreams possible.

If you’re still looking for pecans, peanuts, and other deliciously nutty treats for the big game, don’t forget that there’s still time to stop by Stuckey’s and grab all of the snacks you need for game day. Visit stuckeys.com to find the Stuckey’s nearest you!

Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again