Claim: Potato chips resulted from a cook’s moment of pique.
Origins: Lore has long had it that an act of spite led to the invention in 1853 of one of the most popular snack foods of all time. According to the
potato chips were the innovation of George Crum, head chef at Moon’s Lake House, a resort in Saratoga Springs,
The customer tried one, smiled, then helped himself to the rest of them. Thus were born Saratoga Chips, as Crum’s unintended invention came to be called.
According to a further bit of lore that has sprung up around this tale, the finicky customer in Saratoga Springs was none other than railroad magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. (Even among those who cherish the vengeful cook yarn, most dismiss the notion that Vanderbilt was the hard-to-please diner.)
Certain details argue against the vengeful cook legend. First, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, George Crum never made the claim that he had invented the potato chip, let alone claimed the tale as his own — those assertions emerged only many years after his death. Crum was, by some reports, the sort of cook that would have punished an overly demanding patron in the manner of the legend. He was also not a modest man. Had one of his fits of pique resulted in a popular dish, it’s highly unlikely he’d have been humble about it.
Second, in 1899, while Crum was still alive, his sister claimed in an interview to have been the one who invented potato chips. Says Dirk Burhans of Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip:
The most credible version is that Katie Speck Wicks invented the chip in an accident not dissimilar to the culinary misfire in which the brownie was born (from a
In 1917 Wicks’ obituary credited her as the inventor of the potato chip.
Saratoga chips remained a local delicacy until the Prohibition era, when an enterprising salesman named Herman Lay popularized the product throughout the Southeast. The whispered assertions that potato chips were an aphrodisiac did not diminish his
Americans reportedly eat an average of six pounds of potato chips per person each year.
Barbara “chip off the old blockhead” Mikkelson
Last updated: 21 April 2013
Aronson, Stanley. “Joys and Triumphs of Junk Food.” The Providence Journal-Bulletin. 27 March 2000 (p. B5). Bennett, Lynne. “Fun Facts About Frites.” The San Francisco Chronicle. 20 September 2000 (Food; p. 4). Botkin, B.A. Sidewalks of America. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1954 (p. 180). Burhans, Dirk. Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip London:Terrace Books, 2008 ISBN 978-0-299-22770-8 (pp. 19-21). Library of Curious and Unusual Facts: Inventive Genius. Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1991. ISBN 0-8094-7699-1 (p. 49).