George Crum

George Crum

Born: ,   1822-1914

Invention: The Potato Chip

Speck was born on July 15, 1824 in Saratoga County in upstate New York. Some sources suggest that the family lived in Ballston Spa or Malta; others suggest they came from the Adirondacks.

Depending upon the source, his father, Abraham, and mother Diana, were variously identified as African American, Oneida, Stockbridge, and/or Mohawk. Some sources associate the family with the St. Regis (Akwesasne) Mohawk reservation that straddles the US/Canada border. Speck and his sister Kate Wicks, like other Native American or mixed-race people of that era, were variously described as "Indian," "Mulatto," "Black," or just "Colored," depending on the snap judgement of the census taker

Personal Bio
According to one story, on August 24, 1853, a customer complained that Crum's french fries were "too thick". The angered cook was frustrated by this remark, so he decided to give the maximal opposite of what the client was complaining about: he sliced potatoes paper-thin, overfried them to a crisp, and seasoned them with an excess of salt.

When the crisps were prepared, he gave them to the customer, expecting him to be dissatisfied. However, the customer loved them. The chips became popular, and became known as Saratoga chips. Crum was able to open his own restaurant in 1860 with the profits he made selling his new chips. They remained a local delicacy until the Prohibition era, when an enterprising salesman named Herman Lay popularized the product throughout the Southeast United States.

According to urban legend, the hard-to-please customer in Saratoga Springs was none other than railroad magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, but more than likely it was a much more obscure customer. An early source for the story identifies Vanderbilt as a regular customer, but not as the unintentional co-originator of the famous snack.
However, a recipe for fried potato "shavings" had been printed in the U.S. in 1832, in a book explicitly derived from an even earlier English collection. "Claims that the product originated in Saratoga, NY, in 1853 may be looked at with appropriate skepticism."
It is curious that a biography commissioned by Crum himself in 1893 did not mention his famous invention.[7] It is possible that Crum's sister, Katie Speck Wicks, either made the first discovery herself or in conjunction with Crum.[8] A contemporary source even gives credit to Cary Moon's wife Harriet, stating that she developed the side dish over time.[9] Despite all the stories about the invention of the potato chip by George (Speck) Crum and/or his sister Katie Speck Wicks, it would seem that all of this is rendered moot if one only consults cookbooks extant at the time. William Kitchiner's [10] The Cook's Oracle includes a recipe for what can only be described as a potato chip, even though it is not called such in this cookbook. Equally so, one must acknowledge that N.K.M. Lee's cookbook [11] which seemingly at the very least plagiarized Kitchiner, for her cookbook has virtually the same recipe for potato chips as Kitchiner. Whether one called it a potato chip or not, it would seem that a thinly sliced potato cooked in hot oil and served sprinkled with salt existed before either George Crum or his sister Katie Speck Wicks 'invented' the potato chip.

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