Potato chips were apparently invented in 1853 by a cook named George Crum — possibly of African-American and Native American descent — who worked at Moon’s Lake House on Saratoga Lake in New York State. The probably apocryphal story is that a customer at the restaurant sent back his fried potatoes because they weren’t crisp enough and so, in a fit of pique, Crum fried them into a bet-you-can’t-eat-these consistency before sending them back out.
As it happened, though, the over-cooked potatoes were unexpectedly well received, and went on to become a regular menu item. Crum called them “potato crunches” at first, but after he began making up large quantities and selling them by the bag, he dubbed them Saratoga chips — the name by which potato chips were to be known for some years. This makes the snack an example of a truly American snack, just like these “foreign” foods that are really American.
The chips remained restaurant fare for decades, becoming packaged goods for sale in grocery stores only around the turn of the century.
Two potato chip companies that are still in business — Tri-Sum in Massachusetts and Mikesell’s in Ohio — date from the first ten years of the 1900s. As the century progressed and the popularity of potato chips spread, regional producers grew up all over the country in large numbers, and regional styles and favored flavors developed.
Today, big companies predominate in the chip market — Frito-Lay brands alone account for almost $3.5 billion in annual U.S. sales, more than five times the sales of the next largest manufacturer — but small regional chip-makers, both veteran and newly established, still play an important role in the potato chip scene.
Based on consumer reviews and first-hand tasting experience, 24/7 Tempo has identified 16 of the best regional potato chip brands in America — all with limited distribution but all worthy of widespread appreciation.