Use the smaller-sized text Use the larger-sized text Use the very large text

Chip Chat: Red Dot and the Potato Chip.

 

POTATO CHIPS INVENTED 150 YEARS AGO!

Most sources agree that Moon's Lake House resort in Saratoga Springs, New York served the world's first potato chips in 1853. According to legend, George Crum, a chef at the resort, invented the paper-thin chip as a sarcastic reply to a patron who had complained that his fried potatoes were too thick and greasy. Instead of being upset, the patron asked for more! Details of the story vary, and some credit George's sister Kate, another cook at Moon's, with the invention.

“Saratoga chips” became a standard item at Moon's Lake House and later at many eateries in the eastern United States. For the rest of the 1800s, restaurants were the primary places where people made and ate potato chips.

MORE POTATO CHIP MILESTONES

In 1895 a man in Cleveland, Ohio may have become the first person to make chips for sale in dry goods stores. During the next few decades, small-scale potato chip manufacturers kettle-fried chips in small batches for the store trade. Customers scooped the chips out of barrels or glass display cases into paper bags. Chips sold this way quickly lost their crispness. According to the Snack Food Association, the solution to this problem came in 1926, when Laura Scudder, owner of a potato chip company in Monterey Park, California, invented the wax paper potato chip bag. This new bag, along with the mechanical potato peeler and continuous fryer, made possible the mass-manufacture and distribution of chips.

RED DOT POTATO CHIPS IS FOUNDED

Red Dot Foods of Madison, Wisconsin was founded in 1938, the same year as H.W. Lay & Company in Atlanta, Georgia, and soon achieved comparable success. Red Dot's founder, Frederick J. Meyer, had been selling snack foods to grocery stores in Dane County as a middleman since 1931. When potato chips began selling faster than any other product, he realized that they were the snack food of the future. In 1938 he found investors to purchase the latest in potato chip technology -- a continuous potato chip making machine -- and a new enterprise was born.

OTHER WISCONSIN BRANDS

Red Dot was the only large potato chip company founded in Wisconsin, but several smaller companies called the state their home. These included Delicious (“De-lish-us” brand) in Waupaca, and Drenk's, Geiser's, and Mrs. Howe's in Milwaukee. Today only Delicious, founded in 1938 (the same year as Red Dot), makes potato chips in Wisconsin.

RED DOT FACTORY EXTERIOR at 1435 East Washington Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin, 1939.This building, which was expanded in the 1940s, still stands today.
WHi(D487)1624
RED DOT FACTORY INTERIOR showing two continuous potato making machines in operation, 1939.A year after this photograph was taken Red Dot had 95 employees. Ten years later the company would have over 300 employees working in Wisconsin.WHi(D487)11837
BAGGING RED DOT POTATO CHIPS, 1939.
Although they made their own potato chips, Red Dot Foods continued to sell snack foods made by other companies until 1948. ID 9072
RED DOT POTATO GREENHOUSE at Sugar Camp Farms, Oneida County, Wisconsin, c. 1956.By 1890 farmers in central Wisconsin had begun growing potatoes as a major crop. Today Wisconsin produces the third-largest potato crop, behind Idaho and Washington. Red Dot Foods claimed to be the first potato chip company to operate its own potato research program. Red Dot worked closely with the University of Wisconsin's agricultural department to create the perfect potato for chips. The University continued to do research in this area after Red Dot folded and in 1990 introduced the Snowden potato, now considered the ultimate chipping potato.
RED DOT POTATO CHIP CAN, c. 1950.
In 1948 Red Dot Foods decided to sell only snack foods they themselves manufactured. At first the company lost money, but the spread of supermarkets and a growing demand for snacks turned the company into a multimillion-dollar business.2002.384.1Donated by University of Wisconsin-Madison Geology Museum
RED DOT POPCORN CAN, c. 1955.
As television viewing became more popular so did a “sustenance-by-snacks” mode of eating. Red Dot broadened its snack food repertoire to meet the growing demand by adding nuts, pretzels, and popcorn to its line. 1991.113.1 Donated by Jill Kohler Garbacz
TA-TO THE CLOWN DOLL, 1940-1949.
Ta-To became the symbol of Red Dot Foods in the early 1940s. The company gave this promotional doll to one of its employees. 2003.6.1 Donated by Diane E. Buck in memory of Irene S. Bell

CHIP CHAT NEWSLETTERS, 1960-1961.
Red Dot began this newsletter for friends and family in August 1945. The March-April 1961 issue featured Ta-To as portrayed by Cousin Otto, a famous clown from Whitewater, Wisconsin. Popular radio personality Two-Ton Baker provided Ta-To's voice for radio advertisements.
CHIP CHAT NEWSLETTERS, 1960-1961.
MAP OF RED DOT FOODS TERRITORY, 1956. When Frederick Meyer's company turned 25 years old, Red Dot dominated the Midwest snack food industry with eight factories making products for 35,000 retail outlets.
FREDERICK J. MEYER, 1956. On May 5, 1961, Meyer sold his company to H.W. Lay & Company. Despondent over the sale, Meyer killed himself four days later. In 1970 Lay's sold the Red Dot brand to the H.H. Evon Company in Little Rock, Arkansas, who discontinued the product line and closed down the Madison factory in 1973.
RED DOT POTATO CHIP BAG, 1961-1970
In May 1961 H.W. Lay & Co. purchased Red Dot Foods, Inc. Later that year, Lay's merged with The Frito Company to become Frito-Lay, Inc. This bag was made during the years that Frito-Lay produced the Red Dot brand. 2003.119.1 Purchase
  • Questions about this page? Email us
  • Email this page to a friend
select text size Use the smaller-sized textUse the larger-sized textUse the very large text