Yum, a century and a half of chips

The potato chip turns 150 this year, and what a flavor-packed adventure this snack food has had so far.

Since its invention in 1853, the potato chip has gone from a lowly side dish to America's crunchy, munchy favorite. The chip market generates sales of $6 billion a year in the United States alone.

To celebrate this salty achievement, the Snack Food Association and the US Potato Board are planning celebrations across the US. The festivities start this month with a three-day chip seminar in Jacksonville, Fla., for potato growers.

That will be followed later in March by a dinner and birthday party in San Francisco, during the annual SNAXPO convention. A final celebration will be held in August in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., the birthplace of the chip.

The potato chip was created the same year that Franklin Pierce was inaugurated as the 14th US president, Vincent van Gogh was born, and Levi Strauss moved to San Francisco, where he invented bluejeans.

The chip debuted at Moon's Lake House, a resort in Saratoga Springs. As with many now-classic foods, the chip was the result of a happy accident.

Fried potatoes were a common menu item in the region, having been first introduced in the States by Thomas Jefferson in the late 18th century. In 1853, a patron at Moon's Lake House ordered fried potatoes with his meal. The diner complained that the potatoes were too thick and sent them back to the kitchen.

George Crum, the chef at the restaurant, was upset that someone would criticize his cooking. In response to the comment, Mr. Crum sliced a new batch of potatoes paper-thin, fried them in boiling oil to a crisp, and then salted them.

The fussy patron and his friends loved the "crunchy potato slices." Soon the chips became known as Saratoga chips and were served in restaurants throughout the region.

When Crum left Moon's Lake Inn to start his own restaurant, he placed large baskets of the chips on every table. It wasn't long before Saratoga Chips were found in restaurants up and down the East Coast.

Eventually, grocery stores sold the snack as well - in bulk from large barrels. By 1926, America's well-liked snack food earned itself the more familiar wrapping it still has today, enabling it to be sold in individual packages.

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