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The Story of George Crum, the African American Chef Who Invented the Potato Chips

Potato chips is arguably one of the world’s most famous side dishes. Every time you crunch a potato chip and you are enjoying the delicious taste, know that a black culinary legend made it possible.

In 1853, a black man who was the son of an African-American father and a Native American mother, George Speck, popularly known as George Crum was working as the chef when he invented the chip incidentally.

It all began when Cornelius Vanderbilt, the wealthiest man in America in the mid-19th century who dominated the growing country’s transportation business had ordered a plate of French-fried potatoes returned them to Crum’s kitchen, claiming he couldn’t have it.

At the time, french fries were popular and Crum was a chef at the Moon Lake Lodge resort in Saratoga Springs, New York, USA. He made a meal for dinner but he complained that the fries were too thick and soft.

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George Crum invented potato chips. Pic Credit: Twitter

In an attempt to teach the customer a lesson, Crum reportedly made fries that were too thin to eat with a fork just to annoy the customer. Amazingly, the customer whom he wanted to annoy was rather happy and that was how potato chips were invented!

Although some have argued that Cornelius Vanderbilt, the angered patron was falsely portrayed as an angry customer.

Crum’s chips, originally called Saratoga Chips and potato crunches were soon packaged and sold in New England before Crum later opened his own restaurant called ‘Crum’s Place.”

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New York State historic marker: Crum's Place
pic Credit: Getty Images/Peter Flass

However, some notable accounts have disputed the story of Crum’s culinary innovation and attributed it to his sister, Kate Wicks whose obituary published in The Saratogian in 1924, read: “A sister of George Crum, Mrs. Catherine Wicks, died at the age of 102, and was the cook at Moon’s Lake House. She first invented and fried the famous Saratoga Chips.”

According to reports, Wicks had sliced off a sliver of potato and it inadvertently fell into a hot frying pan and she let Crum taste it and his approval led to the decision to serve the chips.

An original chip box from George Crum's era.
An original chip box from George Crum’s era. Pic Credit: blackthen.com

Crum, born to parents Abraham Speck and Diana Tull on July 15, 1824 made potato chips gain its popularity but not without the effort of these people: William Tappendon, manufactured and marketed the chips in Cleveland, Ohio in 1895 and in the 1920s, the salesman Herman Lay sold potato chips to the southern USA from the trunk of his car.

Its popularity spurred even more in 1926 when Laura Scudder who owned a potato chip factory in Monterey Park, California invented a wax paper potato chip bag that could keep the chips fresh and crunchy.

Over a 150 years later, Crum’s delicacy has gone on to be a global delicacy with millions of people consuming billion pounds of potato chips every year across the world.

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