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Peters, Leo (1908-1995) | Heritage Hall, Hekman Library

Name: Peters, Leo (1908-1995)

Historical Note:

Leo Peters grew up in the greater Grand Rapids area, attending school in Holland and  Grand Rapids Christian schools. Peters received his bachelor's degree from Calvin College. During the Great Depression, Peters worked at Armour & Co. in their research and development department. In 1947 Peters achieved success with a simple way to add the color yellow to margarine. Also during this time, Peters was working with an Oklahoma farmer to develop a heartier breed of turkey, which surpassed even the government standards.  Peter's trimmed, dressed, and fast-froze turkeys were patented in 1954 under the name Butterball Turkey. He struck a deal with Swift Co. and began to partner with them.

The original name of his company was Peters Pak, which eventually would become Butterball Farms, Inc. At Peters Pak, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, made embossed butter. In the late 60s Peters sold the name Butterball and the patent for Butterball Turkey, however he was able to retain the rights to license Butterball for his butter company. Due to his creativity, business sense, and natural curiosity, Peters developed over 60 patents over his life, and made a fortune in doing so.

Beside his inventions and wealth, Peters was also known in West Michigan for causing controversy, especially in the context of Calvin College and the Christian Reformed Church. Peters ran a slanderous newspaper advertising campaign against the college and church. Peters being a staunch conservative, he disagreed with the college's and church's teachings, specifically how to interpret the first few chapters of the Bible. Despite the defamatory full-paged advertisements, many people of the college and church could agree that Peters was a gifted individual, who wasn't afraid to stand up for what he believed was right.

Peters and his wife, Nancy, had nine children. They lived in the house dubbed the "Butterball Mansion" in East Grand Rapids. He attended LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church. On July 19, 1995, Leo Peters passed away at the age of 86. Butterball Farm, Inc. which still produces embossed butter, is currently operated by his son, Mark Peters.

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