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Crunch!

A History of the Great American Potato Chip

Dirk Burhans

Publication Year: 2008

The potato chip has been one of America’s favorite snacks since its accidental origin in a nineteenth-century kitchen. Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip tells the story of this crispy, salty treat, from the early sales of locally made chips at corner groceries, county fairs, and cafes to the mass marketing and corporate consolidation of the modern snack food industry.
    Crunch! also uncovers a dark side of potato chip history, including a federal investigation of the snack food industry in the 1990s following widespread allegations of antitrust activity, illegal buyouts, and predatory pricing. In the wake of these “Great Potato Chip Wars,” corporate snack divisions closed and dozens of family-owned companies went bankrupt. Yet, despite consolidation, many small chippers persist into the twenty-first century, as mom-and-pop companies and upstart “boutique” businesses serve both new consumers and markets with strong regional loyalties.
    Illustrated with images of early snack food paraphernalia and clever packaging from the glory days of American advertising art, Crunch! is an informative tour of large and small business in America and the vicissitudes of popular tastes.

Best Books for General Audiences, selected by the American Association of School Librarians, and Outstanding Book, selected by the Public Library Association

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Preface

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pp. xi-xii

When I approached people in the potato chip industry for interviews for this book, I heard one response over and over again. Occasionally the wording was altered slightly, but most of the time it was phrased,word for word, exactly as follows: “Why would anyone want to write a book about potato chips? Amazing ...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xiv

This book permitted me to indulge in one of my very favorite activities:interviewing old men about their life’s work (and, of course, interviewing women and men of other ages too). Some people interviewed for this project confided nearly their entire life stories. To produce a succinct and readable product, in many cases I could not include all, or...

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1. The Great American Vegetable

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pp. 18-29

A man surveys an undulating green field that stretches almost as far as the eye can see—a carpet of eighteen-inch-high plants. A little farther away, the pattern is broken by a different variety of plant, this one dotted with millions of tiny snow-white flowers. The man has fluffy white hair and eyes that are the color of baby-blue marbles. Over six...

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2. Creation Myths

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pp. 15-21

In the summer of 1853, George Crum was a chef at Moon’s Lake House of Saratoga Springs, New York. The Adirondacks were full of summer hotels catering to middle-class and wealthy New Yorkers, but Saratoga Springs was prime. Located on the southeast edge of the Adirondacks, Saratoga Springs, if you could afford it, was the closest and swankiest ...

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3. Bursting the Seams

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pp. 22-42

As hard as it is to trace the potato chip’s origin, it is even more of a challenge to trace its dispersal in the half decade after 1853. We know that immediately after its invention at Moon’s Lake House, “Saratoga chips” were served there nightly in baskets—or “paper cornucopias”—at tables,a custom that spread to the other Saratoga hotel restaurants, and then ...

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4. Storm Warning

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pp. 43-62

The story goes that after moving to Greenville, South Carolina, eleven-year-old Herman Lay sold Pepsi-Colas from a stand in his family’s front yard, charging a nickel a bottle, while the city baseball park nearby charged a dime. Not only was he successful enough to open a bank account, he expanded to hire neighborhood kids for the stand and used...

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5. Full Combat

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pp. 63-83

In 1982 Borden made only one purchase, but it was one that solidified an already important direction; it bought Seyfert, a dominant Indiana chipper, in a move that augmented Borden’s already formidable Midwest presence. It didn’t stop there. Borden next acquired Geiser’s of Milwaukee ...

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6. Trust and Antitrust

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pp. 84-96

When Frito agreed to buy four of Eagle’s five chip plants—subject to Department of Justice (DOJ) approval—the lives of former Eagle employees, to the tune of 300 to 450 people per plant, suddenly went on hold. Some former Eagle workers reportedly cried when they got word of the closings. In 2001 I made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) inquiry to the DOJ about the Eagle plant sale. Among the items I received were a ...

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7. The Heartland:Ohio and Pennsylvania

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pp. 97-117

Things were rather quiet in the years after the Great Potato Chip Wars. In 1999 Cape Cod, independent once again after Eagle’s demise, was bought by Lance, a large southern snack manufacturer. Guy’s Foods, the former midwestern chunk of Borden’s regional chip puzzle, sought bankruptcy protection in February 2000, closing up its gigantic plant a month later. In 2000 Borden sold Wise to a New York equity firm. Seyfert’s, also formerly of the Borden stable, ended ...

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8. A Few of Our Favorite Things:Fats, Carbs, and Calories

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pp. 118-139

If you look at the nutrition labeling on the backs of most of today’s potato chip bags—it doesn’t matter if the chips are kettle cooked, cooked in lard, or whatever—you will not find much variation in the total calories provided by different types of chips. They tend to have 150 to 160total calories per one-ounce serving, and “calories from fat” are usually ...

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9. Everything Old Is New Again

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pp. 140-156

Not far from Jones Potato Chip Company—some fifty miles east, in the town of Brewster, Ohio—is a different type of Ohio potato chip company. Strictly speaking, it is family owned and uses time-tested methods; but unlike most other Ohio chippers, it is hardly “old time” or “traditional.” The company is Shearer’s. In most ...

Notes

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pp. 157-188

Books Cited

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pp. 189-192

Interviews

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pp. 193-196

Index

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pp. 197-203


E-ISBN-13: 9780299227739
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299227708

Publication Year: 2008