There are many stories regarding the invention of the potato chip. Three of the most popular legends or myths involve three people in a single family. Two of the three are part African American and all three are at least part Native American.
George Speck Crum had two sisters, Catherine and Mary. Mary’s contribution is that she married Peter Francis (1808-1868).
Peter Francis was a member of the St. Regis Indian Tribe. Beginning in 1945, he worked at a Saratoga Lake roadhouse on the southwest corner of Saratoga Lake. He later worked at the San Souci Hotel that took up an entire block on Front St. in Ballston Spa, NY. He was trained in cooking by a French hotel owner, Andrew Berger. Some believe that while at the San Souci Hotel, Francis collaborated in the kitchen (often comparing notes) with his brother-in-law George and sister-in-law Catherine and that the potato chip was invented through this collaboration of the three. The theory is that George introduced them in 1853 when he became the chef at Moon’s Lake House on the northwest corner of Saratoga Lake. A profile of Francis in 1875, twenty-two years after the purported date of the invention, doesn’t mention the potato chip. Nevertheless, some, including Samantha’s Cookbook by the American Girl Doll, claim Francis to be the inventor.
Catherine Crum (1814-1916) is known by several different names. Her first name has been spelled with both a “C” and a “K.” The name of one of her husbands is reflected as both Wicks and Weeks. She is also known as Aunt Katie, again with various spellings of her first name. Catherine was part Stockbridge Indian, part African American and part German and Spanish. The leading legend regarding her is that while making crullers (donuts), she accidently dropped a potato into a vat of hot fat. It is inconsistent whether this occurred at the San Souci Hotel or Moon’s Lake House. George and Catherine both tasted it. George purportedly said “That’s Good! How did you make them? We’ll have plenty of them!” Catherine claimed that George introduced them at Moon’s Lake House in 1853 when it opened under the new ownership of Carey B. Moon. Her obituary credits her with the invention of the potato chip.
Finally, there is George Speck Crum (1824-1914), who had identical genealogy as his sister. Myth states that George never complained when anyone called him Crum since he said a crum is larger than a speck. Crum was a well-known Adirondack Guide who had a reputation of being able to cook anything. He operated the Montgomery Inn boarding house on the west corner of Washington and Broadway in Saratoga Springs. George was hired as the original chef when Carey B. Moon opened his lake house in 1853. He later opened his own restaurant in Malta where several famous individuals including Presidents Cleveland and Arthur, William Travers and Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt were reported to be customers. Legend has it that after a customer complained that his french fries were too thick and not well done enough, Crum took out his razor, cut them razor thin, deep fried them in lard and heavily sprinkled salt on them to spite the customer. While alive, Crum never disputed his sister’s story that she was the actual inventor of the potato chip. Nevertheless, his obituary states that Speck “is said to be the actual inventor of ‘Saratoga Chips’ when he was employed as a cook at Moon’s old place.”
The founder of the Snack Food trade association was Harvey Noss. Prior to his death, Harvey’s son, Don, told me that his dad widely publicized the spiting the disgruntled customer story to help promote the potato chip, without having any actual knowledge of its accuracy. It goes under the adage that a good story is better than the truth. Most of the stories claiming Crum to be the inventor of the potato chip are sourced back to Harvey Noss and the snack trade association that he founded.
The bottom line is that nobody knows for sure who invented the potato chip or where it was invented. What everyone can agree upon is that the potato chip was popularized in Saratoga Springs since the very first generic name wasn’t potato chip, but the “Saratoga Chip.”
This article's author, Alan B. Richer, is a noted historian and collector on the potato chip, and is internationally known as the "Toga Chip Guy." Alan is available for presentations on this tasty topic with an interactive, educational and entertaining presentation that includes almost 400 photos of his extensive collection of chip memorabilia. He will discuss the origins and chronology including the mythology surrounding the invention and share his presentation of his extensive collection of memorabilia and collectibles. Alan has consulted for and appeared on the History Channel show "The Food That Built America" in episodes about Burgers, Frito-Lay, and Pringles. He has been interviewed on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, the German TV show GALILEO, the Boston Globe, various radio, television stations, books, newspapers, magazines and podcasts, and he and his collection have been featured in a Vice Media produced commercial and multiple museum exhibits, including that Saratoga County History Center’s Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa. He publishes a weekly blog entitled "My view of the world through the prism of the potato chip." Together with the Saratoga Springs, NY Lions Club, he put on the Chip Festival where most of the major domestic chip companies displayed their products and attracted thousands of attendees. He was the keynote speaker at a recent AARP Annual Convention and has addressed universities, museums, historical associations, cooking competitions, private parties, and senior groups. See his website, TogaChipGuy.com or his blog on his Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/TogaChipGuy/. To schedule a presentation, contact Alan at TogaChipGuy@gmail.com or 518-527-6393.