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Food Prep

The surprising history of potato chips


Today potato chips are the most popular snack food in America and are devoured at a rate of 1.2 billion pounds annually, so it’s hard to believe that the snack food was created completely by accident.

In honor of National Potato Chip Day on Monday, March 14, we’ve compiled five fun facts about potato chips to crunch on.

Potato chips were an accidental hit

The man who invented potato chips was George Crum, who was both African-American and Native American, and a chef employed as a chef at Moon Lake Lodge --an elegant resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. And getting complaints from a customer about thick, soggy fried potatoes, Crum wanted to teach the patron a lesson, so he sliced a new batch of potatoes as thin as he possibly could, and then fried them until they were hard and crunchy. Finally, to top them off, he added a generous heaping of salt. To Crum's surprise, the dish ended up being a hit with the patron and a new snack was born.

Potato chips were never patented

Crum found success with his invention and even opened his own restaurant in 1860, called "Crumbs House." Served on each table was of course a basket of potato chips --which was a hit with his upscale clientele.  But in those days, people of color were not allowed to take out patents on their inventions and Crum never attempted to patent potato chips. The snack was eventually mass-produced sold in bag without giving him any credit.  

Wax paper chip bags revolutionized the industry

Back in the day, chips stored in cracker barrels or glass display cases and served to customers in paper bags –giving them a short shelf life. But in 1926, Laura Scudder, whose family owned a chip business in Monterey Park, Calif., had an idea to hand-iron sheets of wax paper into bags, fill the bags with potato chips, and seal the tops with a warm iron. The wax paper bags not only kept the chips fresher longer, they prevented them from being crushed.

Lay’s was the first national brand

In the 1920s, a traveling salesman named Herman Lay was peddling potato chips to Southern grocers out of the trunk of his car.  His widespread success helped popularize the snack and Lay's potato chips became the first successfully marketed national brand. In 1961 Herman Lay merged his company with Frito, the Dallas-based producer of snack foods--which grew the reach of the popular chip even further.

Barbecue was one of the first flavors sold in the U.S.

Besides salt, potato chips weren’t flavored until the 1950s when Joe "Spud" Murphy, the owner of an Irish chip company called Tayto, developed a technology to add seasoning during the manufacture process. He developed several flavors that took off in Ireland, including Cheese & Onion and Salt & Vinegar. This spurred other producers to try their hand at flavors. In 1958, Herr's was the first company to introduce barbecue-flavored potato chips in Pennsylvania --a flavor still popular today.