There are a few stories about the invention of the potato chip, but the most reliable ones all center around George Crum, a famous Black chef in the 19th century who served the wealthiest Americans and eventually opened his own wildly successful restaurant.
Born George Speck around the year 1824 to a Native-American mother and African-American father, he worked as a hunter and guide in upper New York state. During this time, his reputation as a cook earned him a position at Moon’s Lake House Restaurant on Saratoga Lake, where wealthy New England patrons built their summer camps. He became famous for his unique specialties with venison and wild game, and he was encouraged to continue experimenting in the kitchen.
The Potato Chip
No one is certain about exactly how the potato chip was invented; some claim it was Crum’s sister, working at the same restaurant. Either way, Crum’s experimentation led to the refinement and popularization of chips, which became a local and eventually a regional draw from all New England.
His Own Restaurant
His wealthy customers included the ultra-rich Cornelius Vanderbilt, who mistakenly called him “Crum” instead of Speck, which George strategically embraced. He used his success there to open his own restaurant in 1860 called Crum’s, with very high-demand – and high-priced – cuisine.
Despite his wealthy clientele, he played no favorites and was expressly egalitarian with his food, making the rich wait their turn behind anyone in front of them. Crum served as an inspiration for numerous young Black men and women to explore their skills and creativity.