The Potato Chip is 150 This Year!

A Century and a Half of Crunch: The Potato Chip Turns 150!

December 31, 2003

Perhaps nothing is more "American" than the potato chip. That's why 2003 is such a special year in the snack food industry - it's the 150th Birthday of the potato chip!

And what an event it will be!

The Snack Food Association (SFA) and the United States Potato Board (USPB) are planning a series of celebrations and publicity opportunities this year to highlight this occasion, which are detailed later in this article. But first, some history on how the potato chip was invented and how it's become such as an integral part of our diet and culture:

The birthplace was a posh resort - Moon's Lake House - in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Fried potatoes were already a common menu item in the region, having been first introduced in the United States by Thomas Jefferson in the late 18th century. In 1853, a patron at Moon's Lake House order fried potatoes with his meal. The diner complained that the potatoes were too thick and sent them back to the cook.

The cook at the restaurant was George Crum, who is described as Native American in some accounts. There is agreement, however, on Crum's disposition -he was generally ornery. Upset that someone would criticize his cooking, Crum sliced a new batch of potatoes paper-thin, fried them in boiling oil to a crisp, and then salted them.

But what was intended as a stunt turned into an instant hit - the fussy patron and his friends loved the "crunch potato slices." Soon the chips became known as Saratoga Chips. At first they were served in restaurants throughout the region. When George Crum left Moon's Lake Inn to start his own restaurant called "Crumbs House," he placed large baskets of the chips on every table. It was not long before Saratoga Chips could be found in restaurants up and down the East Coast. Soon they became known as potato chips.

Potato chips first became available in grocery stores in 1895. That was the year that William Tappenden began delivering potato chips to stores in his Cleveland, Ohio, neighborhood. He used a horse-drawn wagon to deliver the potato chip that he started making on his kitchen stove. As orders increased, Tappenden converted his barn into one of the first potato chip factories.

The next milestone in potato chip distribution came in 1926. Up until this time, retailers dispensed potato chips in bulk from cracker barrels or glass display cases. The chips were then given to customers in paper sacks. Laura Scudder, working in her Monterey Park, Calif.-based family chip business, had a new idea. At night, women employees in the company took home sheets of waxed paper and hand-ironed them into bags. The next day, the workers hand-packed chips into the bags and sealed the tops with a warm iron. The bags of chips were then delivered to retailers where they could be purchased by customers.

The early 1900s gave birth to a number of companies that helped define the potato chip industry. In 1910, Daniel Mikesell and his wife started Mike-sell's in Dayton, Ohio. Wise Potato Chips was founded in 1921 when Earl Wise, Sr. decided to make potato chips out of the excess potatoes at his Berwick, Pa. delicatessen. That same year Bill and Salie Utz founded Utz Quality Foods in Hanover, Pa. and Magic City Food Company (which later became Golden Flake Snack Foods) opened in Birmingham, Ala. In 1932, Herman Lay founded Lay's in Nashville, Tenn., which distributed potato chips from a factory in Atlanta, Ga. In 1938, Lay purchased the chip factory and Lay's Brand Potato Chips was born.

An industry was launched. Potato chips have become America's favorite snack. U.S. retail sales alone of potato chip are over $6 billion a year. And worldwide sales of potato chips are [ will add later]. The U.S. potato chip industry alone employs more than 65,000 people.

Celebrations Planned

SFA and USPB are planning a number of events and activities to celebrate the potato chip's 150th birthday. The events and activities scheduled in 2003 to commemorate the birth of the potato are listed below.

The 2003 annual Routing for Dollars Display Contest will have a 150th Potato Chip category. The SFA route salesperson and retail partner who build the best in-store display commemorating the potato chip's anniversary will share a $10,000 prize. Second place will be $5,000; third place, $2,000; and 10 $500 honorable mentions will be awarded.

A reception to honor the Potato Chip at the annual Chipping Potato Seminar, which will be held March 4-7 in Jacksonville, Fla.

A dinner and birthday celebration for the potato chip will be held at SNAXPO 2003 - SFA's annual convention. This year SNAXPO will take place March 15-18 in San Francisco, Calif., at the Marriott hotel.

A reception in connection with SFA's Day in D.C. that members of Congress, Administration officials, and industry leaders will be invited to attend.

A media campaign that includes information on the history of the potato chip, other events that occurred that year, and trivia about America's favorite snack.
A press conference in August in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where the potato chip was born.

If you have any questions on the 150th potato chip anniversary activities chip or its history, please contact Christopher Clark at 1-800-628-1334 or (703) 836-4500 ext. 218 or

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