Historic Birthday: George Crum

Today is the date that George Crum died in 1914, and the closest anyone knows about when he was born is July 1832, although some accounts say as early as 1822 and at least one more gives 1831. But he was born George Speck, but changed his name to “Crum” (July 1832-July 22, 1914). He worked several jobs before finding his true calling as a chef in upstate New York, most notably at Moon’s Lake House near Saratoga Springs, New York, and later at his own “Crum’s Place.” But his true fame came from the invention of the potato chip in 1853. There is some controversy about whether he is the true inventor, although there are other candidates, and some evidence that either way he may have been involved at some level, he remains the likeliest person to be credited with inventing the potato chip, which makes him a hero in my book.


Here’s a short account of his life from Ancestory.com:

When George W. Speck-Crum was born in July 1828 in Malta, New York, his father, Abraham, was 39 and his mother, Catherine, was 42. He had three sons and one daughter with Elizabeth J. He then married Hester Esther Bennett in 1860. He died on July 22, 1914, in his hometown, having lived a long life of 86 years, and was buried in Saratoga County, New York.

Nothing about his life seems particularly settled, not his birthday, where he was born, his exact ethnicity, or almost anything else, but here’s what Wikipedia claims:

George Speck (also called George Crum) was a man of mixed ancestry, including St. Regis (Akwesasne) Mohawk Indian, African-American, and possibly German. He worked as a hunter, guide, and cook in the Adirondacks, who became renowned for his culinary skills after being hired at Moon’s Lake House on Saratoga Lake, near Saratoga Springs, New York.

Speck’s specialities included wild game, especially venison and duck, and he often experimented in the kitchen. During the 1850s, while working at Moon’s Lake House in the midst of a dinner rush, Speck tried slicing the potatoes extra thin and dropping it into the deep hot fat of the frying pan. Thus was born the potato chip.

George and his wife Kate.


George Speck (also called George Crum) was born on July 15, 1824 (or 1825) [maybe, but possibly other years or dates] in Saratoga County in upstate New York. Some sources suggest that the family lived in Ballston Spa or Malta; others suggest they came from the Adirondacks. Depending upon the source, his father, Abraham, and mother Diana, were variously identified as African American, Oneida, Stockbridge, and/or Mohawk Indians. Some sources associate the family with the St. Regis (Akwesasne) Mohawk reservation that straddles the US/Canadian border. Speck and his sister Kate Wicks, like other Native American or mixed-race people of that era, were variously described as “Indian,” “Mulatto,” “Black,” or just “Colored,” depending on the snap judgement of the census taker.

Speck developed his culinary skills at Cary Moon’s Lake House on Saratoga Lake, noted as an expensive restaurant at a time when wealthy families from Manhattan and other areas were building summer “camps” in the area. Speck and his sister, Wicks, also cooked at the Sans Souci in Ballston Spa, alongside another St. Regis Mohawk Indian known for his skills as a guide and cook, Pete Francis. One of the regular customers at Moon’s was Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who, although he savored the food, could never seem to remember Speck’s name. On one occasion, he called a waiter over to ask “Crum,” “How long before we shall eat?” Rather than take offense, Speck decided to embrace the nickname, figuring that, “A crumb is bigger than a speck.”

Wicks later recalled the invention of the potato chip as an accident: she had “chipped off a piece of the potato which, by the merest accident, fell into the pan of fat. She fished it out with a fork and set it down upon a plate beside her on the table.” Her brother tasted it, declared it good, and said, “We’ll have plenty of these.” In a 1932 interview with the Saratogian newspaper, her grandson, John Gilbert Freeman, asserted Wick’s role as the true inventor of the potato chip.

Speck, however, was the one who popularized the potato chip, first as a cook at Moon’s and then in his own place. By 1860, Speck had opened his own restaurant, called Crum’s, on Storey Hill in nearby Malta, New York. His cuisine was in high demand among Saratoga Springs’ tourists and elites: “His prices were…those of the fashionable New York restaurants, but his food and service were worth it…Everything possible was raised on his own small farm, and that, too, got his personal attention whenever he could arrange it.” According to popular accounts, he was said to include a basket of chips on every table. One contemporaneous source recalls that in his restaurant, Speck was unquestionably the man in charge: “His rules of procedure were his own. They were very strict, and being an Indian, he never departed from them. In the slang of the racecourse, he “played no favorites.” Guests were obliged to wait their turn, the millionaire as well as the wage-earner. Mr. Vanderbilt once was obliged to wait an hour and a half for a meal…With none but rich pleasure-seekers as his guests, Crum kept his tables laden with the best of everything, and for it all charged Delmonico prices.”


Potato Chip Legend

Recipes for frying potato slices were published in several cookbooks in the 19th century. In 1832, a recipe for fried potato “shavings” was included in a United States cookbook derived from an earlier English collection. William Kitchiner’s The Cook’s Oracle (1822), also included techniques for such a dish. Similarly, N.K.M. Lee’s cookbook, The Cook’s Own Book (1832), has a recipe that is very similar to Kitchiner’s.

The New York Tribune ran a feature article on “Crum’s: The Famous Eating House on Saratoga Lake” in December 1891, but, curiously, mentioned nothing about potato chips.[13] Neither did Crum’s commissioned biography, published in 1893, nor did one 1914 obituary in a local paper.[14] Another obituary states “Crum is said to have been the actual inventor of “Saratoga chips.””[15] When Wicks died in 1924, however, her obituary authoritatively identified her as follows: “A sister of George Crum, Mrs. Catherine Wicks, died at the age of 102, and was the cook at Moon’s Lake House. She first invented and fried the famous Saratoga Chips.”

Hugh Bradley’s 1940 history of Saratoga contains some information about Speck, based on local folklore as much as on any specific historical primary sources. Fox and Banner said that Bradley had cited an 1885 article in the Hotel Gazette about Speck and the potato chips. Bradley repeated several myths that appear in that article, including that “Crum was born in 1828, the son of Abe Speck, a mulatto jockey who had come from Kentucky to Saratoga Springs and married a Stockbridge Indian woman,” and that, “Crum also claimed to have considerable German and Spanish blood.”

Cary Moon, owner of Moon’s Lake House, rushed to claim credit for the invention, and began mass-producing the chips, first served in paper cones, then packaged in boxes. They soon became wildly popular: “It was at Moon’s that Clio first tasted the famous Saratoga chips, said to have originated there, and it was she who first scandalized spa society be strolling along Broadway and about the paddock at the race track crunching the crisp circlets out of a paper sack as though they were candy or peanuts. She made it the fashion, and soon you saw all Saratoga dipping into cornucopias filled with golden-brown paper-thin potatoes; a gathered crowd was likely to create a sound like a scuffling through dried autumn leaves.” Visitors to Saratoga Springs were advised to take the 10-mile journey around the lake to Moon’s if only for the chips: “the hobby of the Lake House is Fried Potatoes, and these they serve in good style. They are sold in papers like confectionary.”

A 1973 advertising campaign by the St. Regis Paper Company, which manufactured packaging for chips, featured an ad for Crum (Speck) and his story, published in the national magazines, Fortune and Time. During the late 1970s, the variant of the story featuring Vanderbilt became popular because of the interest in his wealth and name, and evidence suggests the source was an advertising agency for the Potato Chip/Snack Food Association.

A 1983 article in Western Folklore identifies potato chips as having originated in Saratoga Springs, New York, while critiquing the variants of popular stories. In all versions, the chips became popular and subsequently known as “Saratoga chips” or “potato crunches”.

The 21st-century Snopes website writes that Crum’s customer, if he existed, was more likely an obscure one. Vanderbilt was a regular customer at Moon’s Lake House and at Crum’s Malta restaurant, but there is no evidence that he played any role in inventing (or demanding) potato chips.




Potato chips on a white background.

And here’s yet another story about the origin of the potato chip, written by Jean McGregor in the Saratogian in 1940:

The authentic story of Saratoga chips is at long last revealed by the great nephew of George (Speck) Crum, their originator, Albert J. Stewart, now an employee of Mrs. Webster Curran Moriarta of North Broadway, with whom he has been employed for 24 years. Stewart told the story to Mrs. Moriarta many times as I relate it here: “Aunt Kate Wicks” so called by her friends, had something* to do with their Invention—worked for her brother, Crum. She related the true circumstances to Stewart many times before her death in 1914 at 68 William St., where she resided. Crum was born in Malta, the son of Abram Speck, a mulatto jockey who came from Kentucky in the early days of Saratoga and married an Indian woman of the Stockbridge tribe. It is related that a wealthy dinner guest had one time Jokingly referred to the name Speck, as Crura, and thereupon Speck took over the name of Crum. George Crum was more Indianin appearance. His younger days were spent in the Adirondack^ and he became a mighty hunter and a successful fisherman. His services as a guide in the Adirondack* were much sought after. His companion in the forests was a Frenchman from whom he learned to cook. Shortly after the Frenchman’s death, Cnrn took up his abode near the south end of the lake and prepared to serve ducks. He became known throughout the country for his unique and wonderful skill In cooking game, fish and camp fire dishes generally. While he was employed as a cook at Moon’s Place, opened by Carey B. Moon in 1853 at the Southend of Saratoga Lake, on the Ramsdill Road, the incident occurred which led to the making of Saratoga Chips. “Aunt Kate Wicks” who worked with her brother, Crum, making pastry, had a pan of fat on the stove, while making crullers and was peeling potatoes at the same time. She chipped off a piece of potato which by the merest accident fell into the pan of fat. She fished it out with a fork and set it down upon a plate beside her on the table. Crum came into the kitchen. “What’s this?”, he asked, as he picked up the chip and tasted it “Hm, Hm, that’s good. How did you make it?” “Aunt Kate” described the accident. “That’s a good accident,” said Crum. “We’ll have plenty of these.” HE TREED them out. Demand for them grew like wild fire and he sold them at 15 and ten cents a bag. Thus the Saratoga Chip came into existence. Other makes appeared on the market as time passed. For a long period of years, few prominent men in the world of finance, politics, art, the drama or sports, failed to eat one of Crum’s famous dinners.

The late Cornelius E. Durkee, who died at the age of 96, entertained many guests at Moon’s and was familiar with its history, related this interesting story of Crum’s genius as a cook for me one day while he was compiling his reminiscences: “William H. Vanderbilt, father of Governor William H. Vanderbilt of Rhode Island, a prominent visitor here in those days, was extremely fond of canvasback ducks, but could not get them cooked properly in the village. “He sent a couple to Crum to see what he could do with them. “Crum had never seen a canvasback but having boasted that he could cook anything, willingly undertook to prepare these. “I KEPT THEM over the coals 19 minutes.” Crum told Mr. Durkee, “the blood following the knife and sent them to the table hot. Mr. Vanderbilt said he had never eaten anything like them in his life”Mr. Vanderbilt,” continued Mr. Durkee, “was so pleased he sent Mr. Crum many customers. He prospered in the business. He kept his tables laden with the best of everything and did not neglect to charge Delmonico prices.” “His rules of procedure were his own. Guests were obliged to wait their turn, the millionaire as well as the wage earner. Mr. Vanderbilt was once obliged to wait an hour for a meal and Jay Gould and his party, also visitors here in the early days when this resort was the capital of fashionables of the country, waited as long another time. CRUM LEFT the kitchen to apologize to Mr. Gould, who told him he understood the rules of the establishment and would wait willingly another hour. Judge Hilton and a party of friends were turned away one day. “I can’t wait on you,” said Crum, directing them to a rival house for dinner. “George,” said Mr. Hilton, “you must wait on us if we have to remain in the front yard for two hours.” Mr. Durkee recalled for me that, among those who enjoyed Crum’s cooking and his potato chips were Presidents Chester A. Arthur and Grover Cleveland, and Governors Horatio Seymour, Alonzo B. Cornell, David P. Hill, Roswell P. Flower and such financiers as Vanderbilt, Pierre Lorillard, Berry Wall, William R. Travers, William M. Tweed and E. T. Stokes. Crum died in 1914. His brother, Abraham (Speck) Crum dug out an old Indian canoe for Jonathan Ramsdill of Saratoga Lake which is still on exhibit in the State Museum in Albany as one of the finest examples of Indian canoes and Indian days at Saratoga Lake, rich in Indian lore.

And Original Saratoga Chips in New York, also has their version of the story on their website. And The Great Idea Finder also has some info on Crum.

His own restaurant, Crum’s Place, was located at 793 Malta Avenue in Ballston Spa, New York. Today, a marker can be seen by the spot where it stood from 1860-1890.


Patent No. 3895713A: Container Cover Structure

Today in 1975, US Patent 3895713 A was issued, an invention of Arthur K. Bunnell, assigned to Carling O’Keefe Ltd., for his “Container Cover Structure.” Here’s the Abstract:

A container cover structure for a container in which a plurality of items, typically beer bottles, are situated in separate compartments includes individual seals for each of the separate compartments. The seals are constructed to allow each to be broken for removal of the item from its compartment without breaking the seal of any other compartment.


Ballantine’s Literary Ads: Ernest Hemingway

Between 1951 and 1953, P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing Company, or simply Ballentine Beer, created a series of ads with at least thirteen different writers. They asked each one “How would you put a glass of Ballantine Ale into words?” Each author wrote a page that included reference to their beer, and in most cases not subtly. One of them was Ernest Hemingway, who wrote several memorable novels, such as the The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

Today is the birthday of Ernest Hemingway (July 17, 1899–July 2, 1961). He “was an American novelist, short story writer, and journalist. His economical and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He published seven novels, six short story collections, and two non-fiction works. Additional works, including three novels, four short story collections, and three non-fiction works, were published posthumously. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature.” His Ballantine ad ran in 1952.

Hemingway NYT Ballantines

His piece for Ballantine was done in the form of a letter on fishing, written from Cuba:

Bob Benchley first introduced me to Ballantine Ale. It has been a good companion ever since.

You have to work hard to deserve to drink it. But I would rather have a bottle of Ballantine Ale than any other drink after fighting a really big fish.

We keep it iced in the bait box with chunks of ice packed around it. And you ought to taste it on a hot day when you have worked a big marlin fast because there were sharks after him.

You are tired all the way through. The fish is landed untouched by sharks and you have a bottle of Ballantine cold in your hand and drink it cool, light, and full-bodied, so it tastes good long after you have swallowed it. That’s the test of an ale with me: whether it tastes as good afterwards as when it’s going down. Ballantine does.


Patent No. 322853A: Combined Bung And Faucet For Ale And Beer Barrels

Today in 1885, US Patent 322853 A was issued, an invention of Robert Reilly and Francis King, for their “Combined Bung and Faucet for Ale and Beer Barrels.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

Our invention relates to a combined bung faucet for beer, ale, and other casks.

The object of the device is to provide a bung normally closed by a spring-valve and the gaspressure of the contained liquid, and only opened by the introduction of the faucet.


Patent No. 564528A: Bottling Machine

Today in 1896, US Patent 564528 A was issued, an invention of Ernest Lyle Miller, for his “Bottling Machine.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

The object of this invention is to provide a bottling machine which can be readily adapted to various sizes of bottles, and which, moreover, can be made simple and compact in construction and reliable in its operation; and the invention resides in the novel features of construction set forth in the following specification and claims, and illustrated in the annexed drawings


Patent No. 7757908B1: Portable Container And Dispenser For Kegged Beer

Today in 2010, US Patent 7757908 B1 was issued, an invention of Thomas R. Buhl, Jr., for his “Portable Container and Dispenser For Kegged Beer.” Here’s the Abstract:

A combination beer container and dispenser includes an outer container having a top section provided with an opening centrally formed therein. The top section includes a removable lid selectively positional in the opening. The outer container further has front and rear sections and includes a plurality of flange portions extending inwardly and orthogonally from the front and rear sections. An inner container having a cylindrical shape defines a cavity therein. A mechanism for dispensing beer from the keg and a mechanism for securing the keg within the inner container are also included. An axle having opposed end portions is positioned in a bore. A drain cock is directly conjoined to the rear and is manually adaptable between open and closed positions. A plurality of wheels are conjoined to the end portions of the axle. Such wheels include coextensive and juxtaposed ridges for providing traction.


Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.’s Beer Patents

firestone tire
So I’m not sure what to make of these. For nearly two years, I’ve been searching through Google’s patent search and blogging beer-related patents as I find them. And there are a lot of them: some historic, some by people I know (or knew), some surprising and some truly weird ones. Today, I found two separate patents, from two different years — 1948 and 1965 — but both issued on the same day — July 20 — and both of them assigned to the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. even though each one of them is beer-related — kegs, really — and as far as I know, they had nothing to do with beer during those time periods. So let’s go through each of them.

Patent No. 2445730A: Reinforced Sectional Barrel

Today in 1948, US Patent 2445730 A was issued, an invention of Max O. Kuhn, assigned to the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., for his “Reinforced Sectional Barrel.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

This application relates to containers, and more especially to single walled metallic containers.

An object of the invention is to provide an improved container comprising corrosive and noncorrosive metal, said corrosive metal being protected not only from liquid contents within the barrel, but also from direct contact with the atmosphere.


Patent No. 3195760A: Single Walled Double Compartment Container

Today in 1965, US Patent 3195760 A was issued, an invention of William Bulgrin Walter, assigned to the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., for his ” Single Walled Double Compartment Container.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

The present invention relates to containers and in particular to single walled metal beer containers with double compartments.

When beer is initially placed in containers for subsequent dispensing it contains a certain amount of natural carbon dioxide gas which serves to maintain the condition of the beer and keep the flavor lively so long as the container remains sealed. When the container is tapped and as the beer is withdrawn the evacuated space must be filled with a pressure balancing medium of some kind.

If the evacuated space is permitted to be filled with impure air any microorganisms carried in this air will tend to contaminate and impair the flavor of the beer and shorten considerably the useful life of the beer. Also unless the replacement medium enters the container quickly, enough of the natural carbon dioxide gas will be thrown off by the beer itself to fill this evacuated space thus causing a loss of condition of the beer and resulting in a flat taste.

In order to dispense the beer from the container it is necessary to use certain auxiliary equipment, such as pumps, valves and possibly long or involved piping, which equipment often may be a common source of contamination.

To avoid permitting impure air from entering and filling the evacuated space as the beer is Withdrawn, it is often considered preferable to use a separate source of carbon dioxide which involves a certain amount of additional equipment such as the gas cylinders themselves in order to dispense the beer under pressure. The use of carbon dioxide gas would be preferable to pump systems requiring facilities for sterilizing the air which is permitted to enter the evacuated space. A further reason for the use of carbon dioxide is that it serves to prevent the natural carbon dioxide in the beer itself from being thrown off inside the container, thereby ensuring that the flavor is kept lively for a longer period of time.

Accordingly, one of the objects of the invention is to provide a single walled metal container having a separate compartment for the storage of carbon dioxide gas.

Another object of the invention is to provide a single walled metal container having double compartments, one for the storage of a suitable gas and the other for the storage of a beverage, the container being readily adaptable for establishing communication between the two compartments when tapped through a conventional and simple equipment.

It is still another object of the invention to provide a method of fabricating single walled double compartment metal containers of various dual volume capacities from a single standard size container type.


I know that Japan’s Bridgestone Tires bought Firestone Tires in 1988, but I’m unclear as to when the Firestone family was no longer in control, or had sold the business. This is at least 32 years before Adam Firestone and David Walker started the Firestone Walker Brewing Co., and even for the more recent patent, Adam would have been just a kid. So why would Firestone Tires be patenting kegs, or improvements to kegs? Rubber seals, perhaps? Or just some weird quirk of business, who knows?

Patent No. 3195779A: Beverage Dispenser

Today in 1965, US Patent 3195779 A was issued, an invention of William J. Ruff, for his “Beverage Dispenser.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

This invention relates to a beverage dispenser which is particularly useful for dispensing beer and other carbonated beverages.

One object of the present invention is to provide a new and improved device for dispensing carbonated beverages from cans or similar containers of relatively small capacity, such as one gallon, for example.

Another object is to provide a new and improved beverage dispenser in which the beverage is supplied in cans having openings which are sealed initially with closure plugs made of rubber or rubberlike material.

A further object is to provide a beverage dispenser in which the beverage to be dispensed is withdrawn from the cans by means of tapping pipes which are adapted to penetrate the rubber plugs mounted in the openings in the cans.

A further object is to provide a beverage dispenser in which each can is provided with two openings closed with rubber plugs, one plug being adapted to receive a tapping pipe for withdrawing the beverage while the other plug is adapted to receive a tapping pipe through which carbon dioxide (CO) under pressure is introduced into the can to provide pressure for dispensing the beverage.

Another object is to provide new and improved beverage cans having rubber closure plugs, each of which is formed with an imperforate diaphragm, together with means forming a recess for receiving the remnant of the diaphragm after the diaphragm has been punctured by a tapping pipe. It is a further object to provide a new and improved rubber or rubberlike closure plug of the foregoing character which is constructed and arranged to prevent any leakage between the tapping pipe and the plug, and also to prevent the tapping pipe from being pushed outwardly through the plug by the force produced by the CO pressure in the can.

A further object is to provide such a new and improved rubber plug which is formed with a lower sleeve portion having a bore therein which is initially of a substantially smaller diameter than the tapping pipe, so that the sleeve portion will be stretched substantially by the insertion of the tapping pipe, the sleeve portion being adapted to grip the tapping pipe tightly, due to the stretching of the sleeve and also due to the pressure of the CO on the sleeve.

Another object is to provide a new and improved beverage dispenser adapted to dispense carbonated beverages from sealed can of small size so that the dispensed beverage will always be fresh and will be prevented from going hat or stale.


Patent No. 2124308A: Device For Instantaneously Cooling Beer And Dispensing Same

Today in 1938, US Patent 2124308 A was issued, an invention of Stephen Mezzapesa, for his “Device For Instantaneously Cooling Beer and Dispensing Same.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

It is a defect of present systems and methods off dispensing, that when the faucet is first opened there is often a squirt of gas and foam-spattering the beer and wasting it; The excess foam filling the glass’ held under the faucet must be removed and displaced by beer; causing a Waste of the been forming the-foam, Also the gas lost this way tends to leave the remaining beer flat. Some of the present systems have relief valves for the gas, to obviate the above noted defect. This also tends to leave the dispensed beer flat.

invention-consists in a device for forcing the beer from the storage receptacle or barrel into a thin sheet by passing it between closely spaced walls and then causing the beer after it has-passed between the walls to pass through an exceedingly fine orifice from whence it passes through’a length of the standard size beer tubing’ to its place of discharge at the “faucet. Experiment has shown that this causes the undissolved’ gas or air in the system to be evenly distributed throughout the discharged liquid in small bubbles. It breaks up the large bubbles into small ones, and reduces the foam to liquid. It permits the use of greatly increased pressure with the-resultant solution of more gas-in the beer, giving; rise tok a more zestful and tangy beer; The” closeness of the walls is such that the-force-of–capillarity is brought into play to help reduce the foam. There is also a straining action obtained by the closeness of the walls, 40 and smallness of the orifice largely preventing the foam which leaves the storage receptacle or” barrel with the beer from passing through the space between; the walls to the place of discharge; At the place Where the beer is formed into a thin sheet” it is preferably passed through a refrigerating medium; the thinness of the sheet effecting a rapid and thorough cooling of the beer.- The cooling at” this location further helps the reduction of foam and the elimination of large bubbles by the increased solubility of the gas in the colder beer.


Patent No. 607770A: Apparatus For Pasteurizing Beer

Today in 1898, US Patent 607770 A was issued, an invention of William J. Ruff, for his “Apparatus For Pasteurizing Beer.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

My invention has for its object an improved apparatus to be utilized in pasteurizing beer, whereby the operation is more perfectly carried out and the beer more effectually and uniformly treated and its chemical properties preserved.