John Richard “Jack” Simplot, born in Dubuque, Iowa, January 4, 1909, was only a year old when he arrived with his family in Burley.
In about 1923, when Jack Simplot was fourteen years old, he graduated from the eighth grade, left home for a time, and moved into a hotel in Declo. “When I moved to that hotel, I had a few dollars,” he remembered. “There were eight or ten school teachers living there and getting about forty dollars every two weeks, paid to them in warrants. They weren’t checks, just an IOU. . . . I bought those warrants for about fifty cents on the dollar from those teachers. I would take them to town, and the bank would give me face value for them and honor my note. I secured my note with these warrants. That’s how I really got started in the potato business.”
In 1926, Jack began helping his father run the family farm. Hog prices had collapsed, and farmers were practically giving away their young wiener pigs. His father helped him build a pig pen. “We built a great big cooker,” he remembered. “It held about two or three tons of potatoes and two horses. I’d go out in the desert and shoot a wild horse or two, jerk the hide off of them, and bring them back in and cook them with the potatoes. I fattened those hogs on horse meat and cooked potatoes. In the spring, when I bought those hogs, you could get them for nothing. I fed them all winter.”
Simplot became a potato dealer at the same time the Idaho potato industry was beginning to develop. By 1940 Simplot was operating thirty-two packing warehouses and was the largest shipper in Idaho.
During the late 1930s Simplot expanded his business and soon had potato cellars and warehouses throughout southcentral and southeastern Idaho.
The United States entered the war that December, and Simplot became the leading supplier of dehydrated potatoes for the military… and was awarded the Army-Navy “E” for excellence for his contribution in winning the war.
But though the dried potatoes he produced were essential for the military, they were not attractive to the U.S. consumer. Simplot chemist Ray Dunlap also worked on developing a new product—the frozen french fry and discovered that a tasty french fry could be produced by pre-frying the potatoes for two minutes at 380 degrees, freezing them, and then deep-frying them for another two minutes before serving.
Dunlap developed the french fry about the same time that Ray Kroc was turning a small fast-food restaurant called McDonald’s into a nationwide chain. In 1957 Simplot met Kroc and soon McDonald’s was supplying the nation with fast food. Simplot supplied McDonald’s with about 80 percent of its fries.
Simplot also expanded into other businesses, including fertilizer plants, mining operations, farm service and supply stores, farming and ranching, and feedlot operations. In 1978 he invested in Micron Technology, a small company in Boise that was starting to make microchips for computers. By the end of the twentieth century Jack Simplot was considered to be one of the nation’s most important entrepreneurs and one of the wealthiest men in the United States.
Excerpted from “Cassia County Idaho The Foundation Years” by Kathleen Hedberg and used by permission of its owners.
Kathleen Hedberg is the author of “Cassia County the Foundation Years” and “A Flood Can’t Happen Here”, and she’d love to hear from you. Drop her a note at [email protected].
Copies are available at: Cassia County Museum Corner of Hiland and Main, Burley, ID 83318, 208-678-7172 and Mini-Cassia Chamber of Commerce, 1177 7th Street, Heyburn, ID 83336 at 208-679-4793