According to snack food folklore, the potato chip was invented in 1853 by a chef named George Crum at a restaurant called Moon's Lake House in Saratoga Spring, New York. Angered when a customer, some sources say it was none other than Cornelius Vanderbilt, returned his french fried potatoes to the kitchen for being too thick, Crum sarcastically shaved them paper thin and sent the plate back out. The customer, whoever he was, and others around him, loved the thin potatoes. Crum soon opened his own restaurant across the lake and his policy of not taking reservations did not keep the customers from standing in line to taste his potato chips.
The popularity of potato chips quickly spread across the country, particularly in speakeasies, spawning a flurry of home-based companies. Van de Camp's Saratoga Chips opened in Los Angeles on January 6, 1915. In 1921, Earl Wise, a grocer, was stuck with an overstock of potatoes. He peeled them, sliced them with a cabbage cutter and then fried them according to his mother's recipe and packaged them in brown paper bags. Leonard Japp and George Gavora started Jays Foods in the early 1920s, selling potato chips, nuts, and pretzels to speakeasies from the back of a dilapidated truck.
The chips were commonly prepared in someone's kitchen and then delivered immediately to stores and restaurants, or sold on the street. Shelf-life was virtually nil. Two innovations paved the way for mass production. In 1925, the automatic potato-peeling machine was invented. A year later, several employees at Laura Scudder's potato chip company ironed sheets of waxed paper into bags. The chips were hand-packed into the bags, which were then ironed shut.