My First National Potato Chip Day- Something To Chew On

Bert Lahr for Lays Potato Chips. Vintage ad Bert Lahr for Lays Potato Chips. Vintage ad

Americans are crazy for potato chips, so it’s not crazy at all that today we celebrate National Potato Chip Day!

And why not?

They’re crunchy

They are crispy. And for the past month despite the fact I’ve never been a fan of potato chips, I’ve been devouring them like crazy.

And that’s just nuts.

I can’t taste them, but I can’t stop eating them.

woman eating potato chips No wonder sales of chips continue to be up. Cravings for salty, crunchy, foods can indicate frustration, anger, or stress, and the crunching down with your jaw is cathartic.

When the chips are down it seems American love to gobble them up.

In 2020 when COVID-19 forced people to isolate and stay home, many found comfort and solace in a particular snack food- potato chips. That crunchy, crispy treat enjoyed around a $350 million increase in sales from 2009-2020.

But boredom and stress eating during the pandemic shutdown is not the snack’s only connection to the virus.

A lingering reminder that COVID-19 is still affecting me more than a month after I first tested positive is my loss of taste and smell. Deprived of these fundamental senses, the experience of eating has fundamentally changed. Now both the texture of food and its sound have become elements as important as taste once was.

Vintage 1960s ad Bugles, Whistles, Daisys Talk about hip chips- “Bugles” with the woven bugle shape,  “Whistles” – a cheddar-flavored corn product in the shape of a whistle and “taste like grilled cheese on toast, only crunchy”; and a nod to flower power there was  “Daisy*s” – a flower-shaped snack that had the flavor of “puffed popovers.” Vintage ad

In search of sustenance that satisfied my depleted senses, I found myself drawn to crunchy snacks in ways I hadn’t since I was a child.  The last time I was so hepped up over the discovery of snack food was when that trio of novelty hipster corn chips- Whistles, Bugles, and Daisy*s burst on the scene in 1966.

But now it was another kind of chip that oddly peaked my COVID interest – Lays Potato chips.

Hiding in the back of my kitchen cabinet was that classic bright yellow bag with its simple red circle. Even without the name emblazoned across the front along with the sliced potatoes and chips scattered around the packaging, I would recognize this shape and color combo anywhere.

Despite my long-standing dislike of potato chips, I knew this was a vital piece of Americana to keep on hand for guests.

And now in my quest for crisp, I decided to experiment and munched on a few Lays.

It was love at first crunch.

A Million to One

Though I loved the Lays commercials as a child, I never cared for the potato chips, Ruffled or otherwise. In the 1967 commercial for Lay’s Potato Chips, actor Bert Lahr, who portrayed the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz,” is shown getting dressed in his room. Suddenly, the Devil, also portrayed by Lahr, appears in a puff of smoke. “Lay’s Potato Chips,” says the Devil. “Bet you can’t eat just one.” Lahr proceeds to eat one, but he can’t resist the temptation for more. In a voice-over, the announcer explains that “Lay’s Potato Chips are so thin and light, you can eat a million of them.”

And I found it’s true- you can’t just eat one. Even when you can’t taste the salty, dehydrated potato flavor. The crunchy feel and auditory element of the food was divine.

And just like that, I joined the legion of potato chip fans.

And to my delight, the more I did a deep dive into the chips I discovered that it was a woman who helped make potato chips the popular convenient snack they are today.

Potato Chip Queen

Laura Scudder Up until 1926, potato chips were sold in huge glass display cases or cracker barrels. Then Laura Scudder of Monterey Park, Calif., had a fresh idea. She started packing potato chips in small, waxed bags so the chips wouldn’t get stale.

Known as the “Potato Chip Queen, Laura Scudder is one of the legends of the potato chip industry you’ve probably never heard of and possibly one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time.

She invented the airtight packaged bag, pioneered the concept of indicating the freshness of food on the packaging, and was the first to use the chip’s noisy crunch as her marketing message.

Legend has it that the potato chip was born in 1853 when a disgruntled customer in a Sarasota restaurant kept sending back an order of french fries, complaining that they were too thick. Frustrated, the chef prepared a new batch using potatoes that were sliced paper thin and fried to a crisp. The difficult patron – Cornelious Vanderbilt, loved them.

Potato chips used to be the exclusive domain of restaurants.

They were developed in 1853 by accident when a chef in a Sarasota, N.Y. restaurant tried to please a difficult customer. When you think of potato chips the name Vanderbilt would likely not be one that comes to mind.

But in fact, we owe the chance creation of these salty snacks to railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, the aforementioned customer with the persnickety appetite, who fell in love with the chips.

The Saratoga chips grew in popularity over the next 70 years with little innovation.

For a long time, potato chips remained a restaurant-only delicacy. As more restaurants began offering potato chips as part of their menus, customers began craving them as a treat to enjoy at home. By 1895 entrepreneurs met that demand, delivering them in barrels in horse-drawn wagons to grocery stores.

Now if you craved potato chips, you could go to your local grocery store where they were sold loose in glass display cases, metal bins, or cracker barrels, and scooped into paper bags for customers.

Of course, there was a difference in quality between the top of the barrel and the bottom of the barrel where chips were stale and crumbled. The paper bags were not ideal either and did not keep the chips fresh for very long.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the salty snack entered Americans’ home and never left. Except there was one big problem-the chips got soggy and damp very fast.


Enter Laura Scudder

It took a visionary former nurse with a law degree in northern California to change all that. It was 1926 and entrepreneur Laura Scudder had begun her next career heading a food company in Monterey Park. She realized that moisture was killing the crunch in what could potentially reach a million hungry Americans.

She knew just what could save the potato chip.

Wax paper.

Paper coated with paraffin -wax paper- had long been used by butchers to keep meat fresh. Laura realized that she could use the same technique to increase the shelf life of her potato chips and reduce crumbling.

However, you couldn’t just order a bunch of wax bags for potato chips. They didn’t exist.

Instead, Laura Scudder started paying the female employees of her company to take home sheets of wax paper and iron them into the form of bags, which were then filled with chips at her factory the next day. This innovation kept the chips fresh and crisp for weeks before they started getting soggy. By the end of the 1920s, Laura Scudder’s Potato Chips became a common name throughout most of California.

Over time, the innovative packaging method allowed for the first time the mass production and distribution of potato chips.

Vintage cellophane ad Cellpohane packaging was a boost to the sale of potato chips. Vintage ad

When cellophane and, subsequently, glassine was invented in 1933, Laura saw an even better opportunity to package her chips.

Scudder also began putting dates on the bags, becoming the first company to add a freshness date its food products and sold in twin packs to further reduce staleness and crumbling.

This new standard of freshness was reflected in the marketing slogan: “Laura Scudder’s Potato Chips, the Noisiest Chips in the World.”

Vintage ad for Laura Scudders Blue Bird Potato Chip

During the Depression, her company had to face many obstacles in the male-dominated market of the day. For instance, when she tried to get insurance for the company’s delivery truck, she was denied by all the local male insurance agents, because “women could not be relied on to pay their premiums on time.”

Eventually, a more forward-thinking female agent insured the truck and went on to insure the entire company fleet.

Laura Scudder didn’t just brave through the Depression, though. She came out of it with a business that was worth millions.

In a field dominated by men, she was a standout and innovator.

Now that’s something to really chew on.








  1. Sally, thanks for the history lesson. We can always count on you when the chips are down. Keith


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