1824 - 1914
Potato chips – today there are over 1,700 varieties and flavors of potato chips available for consumers to purchase in the United States. Modern day grocery stores have devoted entire aisles to these crispy, crunchy, savory snacks. But, where and when did these thin, fried potato snacks originate?
Chef George Crum is given credit for preparing the very first potato chip in the small kitchen of the Moon Lake House Restaurant in Saratoga, New York. The story, passed down through the generations, describes an unhappy restaurant patron and his meal. Apparently, the dining guest was dissatisfied with the thick cut of the fried potato he was served, and returned the dish requesting a thinner cut to the potato. A slightly irritated Crum cut a wafer thin slice of potato and flipped it into the hot oil. Moments later, he removed and tasted his fried chip only to realize that is was actually quite good. A bowl of these “potato chips” was prepared for the diner, who also enjoyed them. The story continues that co-owner of the restaurant, Mrs. Moon, found the fried chips appetizing as well and began passing them out in small paper bowls for other diners to try. Eventually, the fried chips became a permanent and popular menu item.
Crum was one of two children born to Abraham and Catherine Speck. Abraham was an African American horse jockey who went by the name of Abraham Crum, and his mother Catherine, was of Indigenous American decent. George later adopted his father’s jockey name becoming known as George Crum. Prior to his career as a chef, George worked as an animal trapper, hunter, and expedition guide leading treks through the Adirondack Mountains. In addition to leading the expeditions he also prepared meals for the participants. He eventually realized that cooking was his true passion and began working as a chef at the Moon Lake House Restaurant.
Crum created the potato chip in 1853. However, he unfortunately he never patented his invention, so he was never able to receive historical credit in order to officially claim the “potato chip” as his own. George continued to serve his “Saratoga chips” in the Moon Lake House Restaurant until opening his own establishment, Crum’s House, in Malta, New York in 1860. Crum continued to place baskets of his fried chips on every dining table until his retirement from the food service industry in 1890.
In 1895 potato chips were mass marketed by others and began to be sold, first in grocery stores around the Northeast, eventually expanding globally. George Crum died in 1914, when he was 92 years old, never fully realizing what he had discovered. Potatoes continue to be second in human consumption only to rice and potatoes in the “chip” form make up a large portion of that category. Today, all countries around the world have their own versions of this savory snack and there is definitely enough diversity in flavors for each person to find their personal favorite.