Potato Chips in the Old West

Potato Chips in the Old West

As the story goes (Fox News), potato chips came about when an excellent chef, by the name of George Crum, had taken one pound too much criticism for his fried potatoes (in some instances of retelling, shoestring potatoes/shoestring fried potatoes). Too soft? Too thick? Fine. He sliced raw potatoes as thin as possible and fried them in fat. And once heavily salted, served them to his complaining customer in an elegant resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. Since then, potato chips have become America’s #1 snack food, and as a nation we consume an unimaginable quantity annually–1.2 billion pounds. One interesting side-note: Inventor George Crum was both African American and Native American, so he was restricted–by law–from patenting his invention.

Fox news didn’t say when Mr. Crum worked his magic with potatoes and boiling fat, but 62 years ago, a California newspaper said that first “Saratoga Chip” was served at Moon’s Lake House in 1853.

Recounting of the Invention of Potato Chips by George Crum, published in The Bakersfield Californian of Bakersfield, California, on January 27, 1955.

By 1860, Crum opened his own restaurant, and served baskets of freshly fried potato chips at each table.

Delving through historic newspapers showed me a few interesting things about potato chips throughout Americana.

First, they were a hit. Newspapers from California to New York shared instructions and tips for success with homemakers everywhere.

Feather River Bulletin of Quincy, California, on April 1, 1876.

Potato Chips Instructions, published in the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News of Poughkeepsie, New York, on July 22, 1880.

How to make potato chips (recipe), and serving suggestion: The Marion Star of Marion, Ohio on June 2, 1881.

Potato Chips Recipe, published in the Rocky Mountain Husbandman of Diamond City, Montana on March 9, 1882.

Second, potato chips were sold in grocery stores, as well as made at home. It seems nineteenth century homemakers liked convenience foods.

The York Daily of York, Pennsylvania on March 30, 1880.

Poughkeepsie Eagle-News of Poughkeepsie, New York on December 29, 1880.

“Saratoga Wafers” for sale at 22 cents per pound, fresh three times per week. The News Journal of Wilmington, Delaware on April 15, 1881.

How much would that $0.22 in 1881 be, in today’s American dollars?

What cost $0.22 in 1881 would cost $5.55 in 2016. (latest year offered)

~ Westegg Inflation Calculator

That’s interesting. For this particular item, inflation (per this Westegg Calculator) seems to hold true:

Third, Potato Chips were peddled by salesmen.

Meaney’s Excelsior Potato Chips, sold by “A pushing, go-ahead Fancy Groceries Salesman”. This copy is difficult to decipher, so a direct transcription is also provided, below.

A transcription of the “WANTED” notice, immediately above:

WANTED–A pushing, go-ahead Fancy Groceries Salesman, one handling light groceries preferred, to SELL MEANEY’S EXCELSIOR POTATO CHIPS. Awarded First Premium by the American Institute Fair commission. Address P.J. MEANEY, 119 and 121 Fourth Place, Brooklyn, N.Y.  fe20 2t*

~ The Baltimore Sun of Baltimore, Maryland on February 20, 1880

Fourth, Victorians were quick to invent kitchen implements that would make peeling of potatoes and chipping of those peeled potatoes easier. In case a paring knife wasn’t cutting it.

Potato chipper and potato peeler, both for sale in the 1895 Montgomery Ward Spring and Summer Catalog, page 436.

Copyright © 2017 Kristin Holt LC

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