The Strange Story of Pringles

Pringles is undoubtedly one of the world’s most recognizable snack brands. But the account of how these ubiquitous chips came into existence is a fascinating story … and not widely unknown.

The story goes that, in 1956, consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble, tired of complaints that their existing potato chips were often found to be greasy, stale, and broken, looked to a man named Fredric Baur to solve the problem.

Baur, using his expertise as a chemist, succeeded in his task, figuring out that using a dried-potato-based recipe yielded a super-crispy chip that could be molded into a uniform size and shape. Problem was, there was no known industrial method to successful cook up Baur’s ultimate potato chip. All looked lost, until …

Enter Gene Wolfe, a noted author of science fiction and fantasy. It was Wolfe who would engineer a science fiction inspired machine that could properly cook Baur’s fantasy potato chip. The Baur-Wolfe collaboration made the Pringles chip a reality.

The current production method differs little from those early days. Dough, comprised mainly of dehydrated potato flakes, flour, and vegetable oil, is rolled flat, and then cut into ovals, with the excess dough going back through the process for another chance at fulfilling its chip destiny. The ovals are then pressed into metal molds that give Pringles their distinctive shape, known to mathematicians as a hyperbolic paraboloid. Then the chips are fried for just long enough to give them the perfect crisp (about 11 seconds).

The result is a stackable chip with unrivaled consistency. Initially, though, the benefits of this space-age uniformity didn’t seem compatible with the 1960s spirit of individualism. The 60s was all about rejecting uniformity and embracing ‘doing your own thing’. Generally, potato chip lovers preferred diving into a bag of chips and being ‘surprised’ by unexpected shapes. Pringles was the anti-surprise chip going for consistency, not chaos. Some bright executive thought, ‘well, we can’t compete with chip-surprise, but what if we offered a superior flavor’ …

To accomplish bring the public the ultimate (but unique) potato chip flavor, Procter & Gamble tapped researcher, Alexander Liepa. Liepa slaved away and brought forth a unique potatochippy flavor (Pringle’s fans say the flavor just makes you crave another chip). So successful and unique is the flavor Liepa created that he is credited as one of inventor’s of Pringles and is named on the original patent.

But Fredric Baur who devised the original recipe, was not to be outdone. He would prove to be the real father of the Pringles. Baur would dreamed up the perfect receptacle for his pioneering stackable chip: The tube. With this distinctive cardboard-and-foil cylinder, Pringles found it’s defining characteristic. ‘The Tube’ would inspire the brand’s signature slogan, "Once you pop, the fun don’t stop!".

Over the years, the Pringles tube has found use in increasingly inventive ways, from pencil holders to a makeshift camera zoom lens, or even, amazingly, as cantennas, the name given to makeshift waveguide antennas used to boost the range of WiFi signals.

Baur himself was so proud of his iconic packaging that, when he passed away in 2008, he ensured his ashes were buried in one of his own tubes. Which flavor? Original, of course.

So how well has Pringles done? In 2012, Pringles was acquired by the Kellogg Company for an astronomical $2.7 billion. In the relatively short time since the purchase, the cereal multinational Kellogg has seen its snack presence as much as double in some markets, reflecting the enduring, truly global appeal of Pringles.

Despite an increasingly competitive market environment, the signs indicate that Pringles are as popular as they ever have been. Expansion into the lucrative Chinese market is planned. There are new developments for Pringles, such as corn-based tortilla chips. All this continues to drive sales. So, with a history of success and a future which looks brighter than ever, it’s safe to say Pringles has undoubtedly made its creators proud. It’s a story as strange as perfectly uniform potato chips in a tube.

O.K., you know we have to do this: Order a Pringles Variety Pack – 36 Packs, 3 Different Flavors. Just so you know, this writer’s favorite flavor is sour cream and onions.

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