George Crum – Black Inventor
As a world food, potatoes are second in human consumption only to rice. And as thin, salted, crisp chips, they are America’s favorite snack food. Thus, every time a person crunches into a potato chip, he or she is enjoying the delicious taste of one of the world’s most famous snacks – a treat that might not exist without the contribution of black inventor George Crum.
The son of an African-American father and a Native American mother, Crum was working as the head chef in the summer of 1853 at the Moon’s Lake House, a resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. At work one hot summer day in August, Crum was in his kitchen when a patron ordered a plate of French-fried potatoes. Cooked to perfection, the potatoes were delivered to the customer, who, turning his nose up, complained that the potatoes were too thick and too soft. Crum cut and fried a thinner batch, but these, too, met with disapproval. Exasperated, Crum decided to rile the guest by producing French fries too thin and crisp to skewer with a fork. Slicing potatoes paper thin, Crum over fried them to a crisp and seasoned them with an excess of salt. Crum then gave the chips to the customer, who, to his surprise loved them.
Almost overnight, Crum’s invention became widely popular. Known as Saratoga Chips, the delectably salty treats resulted in a booming business and Crum was able to open his own restaurant in Saratoga Lake in 1860 with the profits he made selling his crisps. As a tribute to the snack that got him started, Crum made sure that customers to his restaurant were greeted with basket of chips on every table. Crum’s restaurant flourished and within a few years he was catering to wealthy clients including William Vanderbilt, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, and Henry Hilton.
Crum’s chips remained a local delicacy until the Prohibition era when an enterprising salesman named Herman Lay popularized the product through the Southeast United States. In 1890, Crum closed his restaurant and enjoyed a well deserved retirement. He died in 1914 at the age of 92. Although Crum never attempted to patent his invention, the industry that he launched in 1853 continues to grow and prosper. Potato chips have become America’s favorite snack and U.S. retail sales of potato chip are over $6 billion a year. In 2006 the U.S. potato chip industry employed more than 65,000 people, all thanks to one man.