Who’s the Genius Who Invented Potato Chips?

Sour cream and onion. Salt and vinegar. BBQ. Plain. Dozens upon dozens of potato chip flavors, all as special as the rest. Except ketchup chips. What the hell were they thinking with those? Anway, how have we, as a society, gotten to the point where we can enjoy a chip for any occasion and any flavor preference? And who do we have to thank for that?

Who invented potato chips? The boring version

The earliest printed recipe for a potato chip can be found in a cookbook written by Englishman William Kitchiner, a celebrity chef of his day. In typical Victorian fashion, the overly wordy title for the recipe was “potatoes fried in slices or shavings.”

When were potato chips invented?

Kitchiner’s book, The Cook’s Oracle, was first published in 1817 and the 1822 edition included the recipe for potato chips. Later, American versions of the recipe popped up in 1824 cookbooks, but they all referenced Kitchiner’s original recipe as a source.

How were potato chips invented?

There’s no real fun behind this origin story. Kitchiner was a stuffy Brit who probably called them crisps instead of chips. Ho hum.

But there is another tale of invention. A tale of mythic American proportions, one to rival folklore stalwarts like Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed. The story goes…

Why invented potato chips? The fun version!

A cook by the name of George Crum was working at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York. On August 24, 1853, a high-falootin’ customer with ostentatious sideburns barreled into the restaurant and demanded a steak with French-fried potatoes. Crum had received some renown to this point for his skills in the kitchen and this dish was no stranger to him.

He whipped up a fine batch of fries and served them to the customer who, after taking one look at them, claimed they were “too soggy” and sent them back. This had never happened to Crum before but, being a consummate professional, he made some more fries, keeping an eye on their sogginess, and sent them to the table.

“Too thick!” the diner declared, and once again he sent them back. Now, Crum was upset. Everyone loved his French-fried potatoes, so it was likely that this was just a picky diner. He sliced his potatoes thinner, made sure they were crispy, and sent the new batch to the table.

“Not enough salt!” Incredibly, the fries were sent back a third time. This got Crum so angry that he retaliated. He sliced his potatoes paper-thin, fried them to a crisp in oil, and doused them in salt. “Here, eat this,” he said to the diner as he plopped the plate on the table. 

The diner took one bite and proclaimed, “Perfect! I have never had a better fried potato in my life! Allow me to shake your hand, Crum. I will tell of your fried potato chips far and wide and you will become famous for them. The country will know about the Saratoga Chips!” 

That diner? Railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. 

Is any of this true? No, probably not. But it’s a dang fun story that I’ll think of any time I open a new bag of chips. That’s CHIPS, not crisps.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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