The History of Potato Chips

Betcha Can’t Eat Just One

Potato Chips
Potato Chips.

Legend has it that the potato chip was born out of a tiff between a little known cook and one of the wealthiest people in American history. 

The incident was alleged to have taken place on August 24, 1853. George Crum, who was half African and half native American, was working as a cook at a resort in Saratoga Springs, New York when a disgruntled customer kept sending back an order of french fries, complaining that they were too thick.

Frustrated, Crum prepared a new batch using potatoes that were sliced paper thin before frying them to a crisp. The customer, who happened to be railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, surprisingly loved it.

That version of events were contradicted, interestingly enough, by his sister, Kate Speck Wicks. In fact, no official accounts ever showed that Crum claimed to have invented the potato chip. But in Wick's obituary, it was stated flatly that "she first invented and fried the famous Saratoga Chips," also known as potato chips.    

The first popular reference to potato chips can be found in the novel "A Tale Of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens. In it, he refers to them as “husky chips of potatoes.”

 

In any case, potato chips did not gain wide-spread popularity until the 1920s, when Laura Scudder, an entrepreneur from California, began selling them in wax paper bags that were sealed with a warm iron as a way to reduce crumbling and to keep the chips fresh and crisp for longer.

Over time, the innovative packaging method allowed for first time mass production and distribution of potato chips, which started in 1926. Today, chips are packaged in plastic bags with nitrogen gas added to extend the product's shelf life and help prevent the chips from getting crushed.

In the 1920's, Herman Lay began selling potato chips out of the trunk of his car to grocers across the south.

In 1938, his Lay's brand chips went into mass production and became the first successfully marketed national brand. Among the company's most biggest contributions is the creation of crinkle-cut "Ruffled" chips that are sturdier and thus less prone to breakage. 

It wasn't until the 1950's though that stores started carrying potato chips in various flavors. This was all thanks to Joe "Spud" Murphy, the owner of an Irish chip company named Tayto, who developed a technology that allowed seasoning to be added during the cooking process. The first seasoned potato chip products came in three flavors: Cheese & Onion and Salt & Vinegar. Pretty soon several companies would express interest in securing the rights to Tayto's technique.   

Betcha Can’t Eat Just One

in 1963, the advertising company Young & Rubicam came out with the popular trademark slogan "Betcha can’t eat just one” for Lay’s Potato Chips. The first "Betcha can’t eat just one" commercial starred actor Bert Lahr (1895-1967).