One-hundred and sixty years ago, on August 24, 1853, George Crum, the son of an African American father and Native American (Huron) mother, was working as the chef at an elegant resort, the Moon Lake Lodge at the south end of the lake in Saratoga Springs, New York, when he inadvertently invented the potato chip.
The resort’s restaurant menu included French-fried potatoes, prepared by Crum in the thick-cut, standard style popularized in France in the 1700s and enjoyed by Thomas Jefferson, the ambassador to that country, who brought the recipe home and served them to his guests at Monticello, where the dish was popular.
One dinner guest at the Moon Lake Lodge found Crum's French fries too thick and soft for his taste and rejected them. Crum cut and fried a thinner batch, but these met with disapproval as well. Crum decided to teach the patron a lesson by making French fries too thin, crisp, and crunchy to eat with a fork.
The plan backfired. The guest was highly satisfied with the paper-thin, browned potatoes, and other diners requested Crum's potato chips, which soon appeared on the menu as Saratoga Chips, a house specialty. In time, they were packaged and sold, first locally, and then throughout New England.
According to urban legend, the hard-to-please customer at the Moon Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs was the railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. He was a regular patron of the resort, but not likely the one who ordered the famous snack.
In 1860, Crum, a native of Saratoga Lake who was born in 1822, opened a restaurant, Crumbs House, that had a basket of potato chips on every table. Although he never patented his invention or tried to widely distribute his potato chips, the new snack was sold in bags.
Potato chips did not gain widespread popularity until a Mrs. Scudder began mass-producing and packaging them in wax paper bags in 1926, and Herman Lay began making Lay's potato chips, the first successfully marketed national brand. Crum, who closed his restaurant in 1890, died on July 22, 1914, at the age of 92.