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The History of Potato Chips: Unearthing the Crunchy Origins

The History of Potato Chips

Last Updated on June 17, 2023 by Jim Edwards

The history of potato chips is a fascinating journey filled with some colorful characters and food innovation.For example, one popular but disputed origin story goes back to the 19th century, when an English doctor named William Kitchiner published a cooking book called “The Cook’s Oracle” in 1817. The book contained a recipe for “potatoes fried in slices,” which is believed by some to be the earliest known recipe for what would evolve into the modern potato chip.

However, it wasn’t until 1853 in Saratoga Springs, New York, that the snack gained its iconic status. Legend has it that the crispy, thin slices were the result of a disagreement between a cook and a wealthy customer at Moon’s Lake House restaurant.

Although the precise moment of the potato chip’s creation may be a matter of debate, there is no denying that it took the world by storm throughout the 20th century. Advances in technology allowed potato chips to be mass-produced, making it possible for households everywhere to enjoy the crunchy delight. Mikesell’s Potato Chip Company, founded in 1910, proudly identifies itself as the oldest potato chip company in the United States. Over time, the potato chip market expanded with a diverse array of flavors and innovations in packaging.


Key Takeaways

  • The origin of potato chips can be traced back to England in 1817, but their popularity soared after a legendary incident in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1853
  • Potato chips became a household staple in the 20th century, thanks to mass-production technology and the establishment of dedicated snack food companies
  • Continued growth in the market has resulted in a variety of flavors, packaging innovations, and consumer-driven trends.

Invention and Origin of Potato Chips

George Crum and Moon’s Lake House

One popular story about the origin of potato chips traces back to 1853 in Saratoga Springs, New York. At Moon’s Lake House, a chef named George Crum prepared thin and crispy fried potatoes for a customer. The customer, reportedly unsatisfied with the thickness of his fried potatoes, sent them back to the kitchen.

In response, George Crum decided to slice the potatoes as thinly as possible and fry them until they were extra crispy. This seemingly defiant act actually led to the creation of what we now know as potato chips.

William Kitchiner and The Cook’s Oracle

The concept of thinly sliced and fried potatoes can also be traced back to an earlier time. In 1817, a man named William Kitchiner published a cookbook called “The Cook’s Oracle” where he included a recipe called “Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings.”

His recipe instructed to peel the potatoes, cut them into shavings, and fry them in boiling lard. Although not identical to the modern-day potato chip, Kitchiner’s recipe served as an early version of the popular snack.

Cornelius Vanderbilt and Saratoga Chips

The Cornelius Vanderbilt story ties closely to the tale of George Crum and the invention of the potato chip. Vanderbilt, a wealthy steamship owner, was the patron who allegedly sent back his fried potatoes at Moon’s Lake House, prompting Crum’s experimentation. This version of the origins led to the chips being called “Saratoga Chips” after their place of creation.

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The invention and origin of potato chips involve various individuals and stories, including George Crum, William Kitchiner, and Cornelius Vanderbilt. These tales span from New York’s Saratoga Springs to Kitchiner’s cookbook and have played a significant role in shaping the history of this beloved snack.

Evolution and Commercial Production

Laura Scudder and Wax Paper Bags

Laura Scudder was a pioneering businesswoman in the snack food industry during the early 20th century. She came up with an innovative idea of using wax paper bags to package potato chips in order to keep them fresh and reduce breakage.

Prior to this, potato chips were typically sold in bulk, which led to a lot of waste and damage during transportation. Scudder’s wax paper bags revolutionized the packaging and distribution of potato chips, paving the way for mass production and commercialization of the popular snack food.

Herman Lay and Lay’s Potato Chips

In the 1930s, Herman Lay entered the potato chip business and founded the H.W. Lay Lingo & Company. Lay started as a traveling salesman and eventually acquired a potato chip factory in Atlanta, Georgia. This marked the beginning of the Lay’s brand that is now a global snack food powerhouse.

Over the following decades, Lay’s Potato Chips became a household name, expanding their product line to include various flavors and types of chips, catalyzing the growth of the snack food industry.

Related: Read our Review of Lays “Poppable” Potato Chips

Joe ‘Spud’ Murphy and Tayto

Joe “Spud” Murphy, an Irish entrepreneur, played a significant role in the development of flavored potato chips. In 1954, he founded the Tayto company, which would go on to be the first to introduce cheese and onion flavored potato chips.

Murphy’s innovation opened the door for countless creative flavor combinations that are now enjoyed by consumers all over the world. Today, Tayto remains a beloved and iconic snack brand in Ireland and has continued to contribute to the evolution of the potato chip industry.

In summary, the history of potato chips has been marked by numerous innovations and trailblazers like Laura Scudder, Herman Lay, and Joe ‘Spud’ Murphy. These pioneers not only shaped the commercial production and packaging of potato chips but also transformed the way consumers enjoy their favorite salty snack.

Video: The Truth About the Origin of the Potato Chip

Expanding the Market and Flavors

Frito-Lay and the Variety of Flavors

Frito-Lay, a leading American snack food company, has played a significant role in expanding the market and introducing a wide variety of flavors in the potato chips industry. The company’s innovative approach to creating unique seasonings and its use of advanced technology in manufacturing has made it a dominant player in the market.

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One of the key figures in developing these innovative flavors was “Spud” Murphy, who was responsible for creating the iconic barbecue flavor, as well as the popular salt and vinegar.

As sales of potato chips grew in America, Frito-Lay continued to experiment with different flavors, textures, and cooking methods, such as baking instead of frying, to cater to the ever-changing consumer preferences and evolving market demands. This adaptability and commitment to innovation have helped Frito-Lay maintain its status as a leading player in the snack food industry.

Global Expansion and Unique Regional Flavors

The potato chip market has seen considerable growth not only in America but around the world. As a result, the industry has witnessed the introduction of unique and intriguing regional flavors that cater to the taste preferences of various cultures and populations.

The global expansion of potato chips can be attributed to factors such as the growing demand for convenient and ready-to-eat snack foods and the globalization of taste preferences. With increasing interconnectedness and international exposure, consumers across the world are more willing to try new and exotic flavors. This has led to the emergence of several distinct, region-specific flavors, such as seaweed in Asia, tzatziki in Greece, and poutine in Canada.

In conclusion, the history of potato chips demonstrates a remarkable evolution in flavors, driven by both consumer preferences and industry innovation. The continued expansion of the market, both geographically and in terms of the variety of offerings, illustrates the enduring popularity of this crispy, savory snack.

Potato Chips Innovations and Packaging

Baked Potato Chips and Health Conscious Consumers

As health concerns over deep-fried snacks grew, food manufacturers developed alternative methods to create a crunchier and healthier snack. In the 1990s, baked potato chips gained popularity among health-conscious consumers.

These chips use less oil as they are oven-baked, resulting in a significant reduction in fat content. The introduction of baked chips expanded the potato chips market, catering to those seeking a healthier alternative without compromising taste.

Nitrogen Gas and Shelf Life Improvement

The preservation of potato chips’ freshness and crunchiness has always been a challenge for the industry. In the early days, potato chips were stored in tins or barrels, which did not effectively preserve their texture. Later, they were packed in cellophane bags, protecting them against moisture and oxidation. However, it wasn’t until the introduction of nitrogen gas that shelf life was truly improved.

Today, chips are packaged in plastic bags and pumped with nitrogen gas to retain their freshness, crispiness, and prevent them from getting crushed.

Packaging Evolution and Environmental Considerations

Potato chips packaging has evolved significantly over the years in tandem with technology advancements and environmental concerns. Initial packages were metal tins or barrels, which then progressed to cellophane bags. The widespread use of plastic bags, however, raised concerns about their impact on the environment due to the increasing amounts of waste generated from single-use plastics.

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In response to these concerns, some companies have shifted towards more environmentally friendly packaging materials, such as biodegradable or recyclable materials. Additionally, efforts have been made to improve the efficiency of production processes by reducing energy consumption and waste generation in factories. Mass-produced and patented packaging techniques have played a significant role in the accessibility and affordability of potato chips that are enjoyed worldwide today.

Read about Popchips – a Healthy Potato Chip Alternative

Frequently Asked Questions

Who invented potato chips in 1853?

George Crum is credited with inventing potato chips in 1853 while working as a chef at Moon’s Lake House Resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. He came up with the idea after customers complained about thick and soggy French fries.

What was the first potato chip brand?

The first potato chip brand was likely “Saratoga Chips”, which started being produced by George Crum’s sister, Kate Wicks, soon after the invention in Saratoga Springs.

When did potato chips become popular?

Potato chips began to gain popularity in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s, and by the 1940s they had turned into a mass-produced snack.

How were potato chips invented by mistake?

The story of the invention of potato chips revolves around a wealthy steamship owner, Cornelius Vanderbilt, dining at Moon’s Lake House and becoming dissatisfied with the fried potatoes. George Crum, the chef at the time, decided to slice the potatoes thinly and fry them until crisp, intending it as a joke. However, Vanderbilt loved the crispy snack, leading to the invention of potato chips.

What was the first flavor of potato chips?

The first flavor of potato chips was simply seasoned with salt. It wasn’t until the 1950s that flavored chips like barbecue and onion were introduced to the market by Joe “Spud” Murphy, an Irish snack food producer.

What is the brief history of chips?

The history of potato chips dates back to 1853 when George Crum invented them in Saratoga Springs, New York. They steadily gained popularity over the years, becoming a mass-produced snack in the 1940s. In the 1950s, the introduction of flavored chips by Joe “Spud” Murphy brought new innovations to the industry.

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