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George Crum: The Potato Chip Inventor You Probably Didn’t Know

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Have you ever wondered who invented your favorite potato chip? George Crum is the man behind it all. He worked at a restaurant when he unknowingly made what became one of the world’s favorite snacks. This post details his story and what inspired him to make the potato chip.

George Crum’s Childhood

George “Crum” Speck: The inventor Of Potato Chips. Video Credit: AGGRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE

George Speck “Crum” was born on 15 July 1824 in Saratoga County, New York. He was born to an African American father, Abraham Speck, and a native American Diana Tull. Crum’s sister was Catherine Speck, both were part of the St. Regis Band. He adopted the name Crum from his father, who used while a jockey.

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As a young man, Crum was a specialist duck and deer catcher and worked as a guide in New York’s Adirondack Mountains.

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Restaurant Career

Around 1835, Moon’s Lake House, an upscale restaurant in Saratoga Lake in Saratoga Springs, serving wealthy Manhattan clients, hired Crum as a chef. A regular patron Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt often forgot Speck’s surname and used Crum. 

He directed his orders to ‘Crum’ through other servers. George Crum embraced his name and jokingly said a “crum was bigger than a speck”.

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Narratives of Potato Crip Invention

The story of the potato chips. Video Credit: Great Big Story

A disputing narratives around the potato chip invention suggest that George Crum stumbled upon this invention. Vanderbilt reportedly complained that the french fries at the restaurant were too thick and returned his orders. 

Crum was annoyed and sliced the new batch of potatoes as thin as possible and then fried them until they were crispy. Crum deliberately sprinkled a generous heaping of salt to dish a lesson to the picky patron.

To Crum’s surprise, this turned out to be a new snack. Vanderbilt and other customers enjoyed its delicious taste from its crunchy and salty texture. The Moon Lake’s House was known as the Saratoga Chips

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Crum’s Sister Discovered the Potato Chip

His sister Kate Speck said she invented the Saratoga potato chip. According to her, a thinly sliced potato fell into a hot frying pan. Crum tasted it and was excited by its taste. The Saratogian a publication that carried Wick’s obituary, identified her as the inventor of the famous Saratoga chips. 

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Popularization of the Potato Chip

How potato chips became a popular snack. Video Credit: KidsBlackHistory

Regardless of the different stories, George Crum popularized the fried potato chip. Many diners went to Moon Lake’s House to have a fill of the snacks. The restaurant’s owner Cary Moon unsuccessfully attempted to take the credit for the potato chip. She then commercialized them by selling them in boxes.

George Crum Opens Restaurant  

Potato crisp served on a plate. Photo by Natan Machado Fotografia Gastronômica

In 1860, Crum opened his restaurant, Crum’s Place, in Malta, New York, and served a basket of chips. This was a preserve for the elite until the 1920s when Herman Lay took the potato chip to the South and broadened its consumer base. Unfortunately, this diminished Crum’s legacy, who stayed in business until 1890, when he retired.

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Personal Life

Crum had two wives. His first was Elizabeth Jarrett and had four children, Gilbert, William John and a daughter, Anne. They divorced after four years (1857). His second wife, Hester Esther Bennett, was a client at his restaurant. They tied the knot in 1860 and remained spouses until she died in 1906. George Crum died in 1914 in Malta, New York.

George Crum gave the world the best pastime delicacy. Despite the disputed accounts, he played a crucial role in popularizing one of the world’s most famous snacks, the potato chip, and he deserves recognition for his contributions. 

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