Where would we be without Black inventions?
Have you ever sat back and wondered, “Who made this?” We’ve all done it. It may have happened while ironing clothes or driving your car, but at one point in time, we have all stepped outside of our reality for a second to wonder who came up with the many inventions we take advantage of today. That question is what led us to the discovery of George Speck and his sister Catherine “Kate” Speck Wicks, the two siblings credited with inventing the potato chip.
According to the Saratoga County History Center, George and sister Kate were born to parents Abraham Speck and Diana Tull in upstate New York. Also using the surname Crum, one his father used while working as a jockey, young George spent his younger years working as a guide in the Adirondack mountains. During the mid-1800s, he began working as a cook at a restaurant called Moon’s Lake House on Saratoga Lake, making a name for himself as a renowned chef, ThoughtCo reports.
Now there’s a lot of mystery around exactly how that first chip was made, but records show there are two main theories that each seem to hold a little bit of truth in it. Legend has it that one day, a regular customer, known for being a bit picky about his food, sent back an order of french fries, claiming the ones George had made were way too thick. In his frustration, “Crum” as they called him, decided to be a wise guy and slice the new batch of potatoes as thin as possible, frying them up and seasoning them with extra salt. Turns out the customer loved it! Before he knew it, Moon’s Lake House had become well known for what they referred to as their “Saratoga chips.”
Another story tells a bit of a different tale about that first invention. The alternative story claims that it was actually Kate who, while working in the kitchen with her brother George, had accidentally sliced off a thin cut of potato which fell into a frying pan. After letting Crum taste it, he approved, choosing to add the dish to their menu. This one may be more likely since many records on Crum, including a 1983 biography commissioned by the chef and his obituary, fail to mention anything about the invention of potato chips, something the proud chef surely would’ve taken credit for.
More importantly, an obituary for Kate, published in The Saratogian in 1924, read, “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.” Kate had also published several articles over the course of her life recounting the story, leading many historians to believe that she was the actual inventor, George receiving later credit because of his own notoriety.
Whatever the origin story, the potato chip rose to prominence as a result of the siblings, many coming to the restaurant from everywhere for the chips. Cary Moon, owner of the restaurant, later tried to claim credit for the invention, mass distributing boxes of potato chips. George would later open his own restaurant in Malta, New York where he regularly served the basket of chips. They became a local treat in the area until the 1920s when Herman Lay, future owner of Lay’s potato chips, began marketing the treat all over the South, the sibling’s invention eclipsed by the mass production and distribution of potato chips across the country.
George ran his restaurant until its closing in 1890, passing away in 1914 at the age of 92. Kate would pass a decade later. While the duo’s story may be forgotten by many, we want to make sure their story is kept alive. Tell a friend about the inventors the next time you grab a bag! Because of them, we can.
Meet the Specks, the Black siblings credited with inventing the potato chip. Photo Courtesy of Brentwood Hotel/Instagram/Black Wall Street Times