Where did the potato chip come from?

by | Aug 10, 2010 08:00 PM ET

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Hi, I'm Marshall Brain with today's question. Where did the potato chip come from? Fried potatoes were first introduced in the United States by Thomas Jefferson in the late 18th Century. Jefferson had come across them while he was in Paris. During the early 19th Century fried potatoes steadily gained in popularity. They became a common menu item at restaurants across the country. In 1853, a diner at Moon's Lakehouse in Saratoga Spring, New York ordered fried potatoes with his meal. The diner, rumored to have been Cornelius Vanderbilt, sent the potatoes back to the kitchen with a complain that they were not crispy enough. The chef at the restaurant, George Crum, apparently was furious with the criticism. So he sliced the potatoes paper thing, salted them heavily, and refried them. Ironically, instead of ruining the meal for the diner, Crum's creation was a hit. The owner of Moon's Lakehouse, realizing that the chips were delicious, made them a menu item. Eventually, Crum opened his own restaurant that featured the thing fried potatoes as well. He called them Saratoga Chips.

As word of the chips got out, other restaurants began to serve them. It wasn't long before potato chips were a staple at restaurants across the country. William Tapaden of Cleveland, Ohio, was credited with taking the potato chip out of the restaurant and into the grocery store. In 1895, he began selling potato chips to local grocers and turned his barn into the world's first potato chip factory. During the early 1900s, several companies built large factories for the mass production of potato chips. And the 1920s saw the birth of three companies that define the potato chip industry today.

First, Earl Wise, Sr. had too many potatoes at his Wise Delicatessen company, which was founded in Berwick, Pennsylvania in 1921. He decided to make potato chips out of the extras and sell them in brown paper bags through the Delicatessen as Wise Potato Chips. Herman Lay began selling potato chips in the south, and in 1932 he founded Lays in Nashville, Tennessee as a distributor for the chip factor in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1938, Lay purchased the chip factor and started selling Lays brand potato chips. In 1921, Bill and Sally Utts founded Utts Quality Foods in Hanover, Pennsylvania. Utts marketed and sold chips made by his wife Sally called Hanover Home Brand Potato chips.

Today, potato chips are America's favorite snack food and come in an amazing number of varieties. Modern factories mass produce the chips using continuous fryers, or flash frying. Some chips are made from reconstituted potato flakes instead of raw potato slices. Now, the question is, are potato chips a good idea or a bad idea? If you think about it, what you've got is a package the contains fat, which isn't great for you, high glycemic carbohydrates, which aren't great for you, and a lot of salt, which isn't great for you either. Maybe this wasn't the greatest invention ever created.


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