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Russians come to York during Cold War to check out potato chips


Several years ago I did over a dozen posts on York County potato chips, drawing a higher readership than most of my other posts covering nearly 270 years of York County history. This clipping from the York County Heritage Trust files shows that during the height of the Cold War Russian officials were interested in, of all things, York County potato chips.

The December 5, 1959 item from the Gazette and Daily reports:

Russia’s First Deputy Minister of Trade and Agriculture visited two potato chip manufacturing firms in York yesterday and impressed the operators with his knowledge of production methods generally.

The potato chip business is operated on a small scale only in the Soviet Union and with an entirely different kind of chip produced, the minister, Dmitri R. Korolev, indicated in his conversations with officials at El-Ge Potato Chip Company, Inc., and Bon Ton Foods, Inc.

Expansion with output of a product more like potato chips made here is a goal. Potato chips afford a new outlet for potatoes, one of Russia’s abundant crops, he made known through an English-speaking Russian economist and a U.S. State department interpreter accompanying him.

Russell W. Wilson, vice president of El-Ge, described Korolev as a “very intelligent” man with a quick grasp of technical details even while working through interpreters.

Wilson said the visitors were interested in all aspects of the business from growing, storing and curing of potatoes to the peeling, slicing, frying and packaging. The tour was arranged by the J.S. Ferry company, Harrisburg, manufacturer of the frying machines.

Korolev was very much interested in wage rates and working conditions of employees. He expressed amazement to see “the number of new cars parked at the plant and to see our people work just as hard as people in Russia,” according to Wilson. “I told him that too many cheap grade B movies had given the other impression” Wilson said.

Wilson said he was presented with a medal similar to one given to President Eisenhower showing the Sputnik in moon orbit, and he and his son, Russell W. Jr., were invited to visit the Soviet Union. The visitors stuck to business and did not discuss politics with officials at either plant. “They said they would prepare an itinerary for us to see industry, agriculture or tourist spots and would clear everything through the State department,” Wilson said.

The Russian official and Wilson agreed to exchange samples of potato chips. Packages will be mailed to Russia for Korolev who said he would return the favor after new methods are tried in Russia, according to Wilson. The Soviet minister is making a month’s tour of the United States.

Korolev expressed surprise when he learned that El-Ge is headed by a woman, Mrs. Marguerite V. Gillespie, and asked to meet her, Wilson said. Unfortunately, Mrs. Gillespie was out of town.

Wilson said the Russians spent about three hours at the plant. “I was amazed with their knowledge or production. If they thought you gave the wrong answers, they repeated their questions until satisfied of the explanation,” he said.

A growing interest in potato chips elsewhere abroad is indicated by frequent tours of foreign visitors through his plant, Wilson said. He has demonstrated operations for representatives of Japan, England, Scotland and South America. Supplying of chips to American soldiers abroad has introduced the food abroad, he believes.

The Bon Ton company eventually became part of Hanover Brands; they manufacture Bickel’s snacks in the buildings that were the original plants of both Bon Ton and El-Ge off of South Richland Avenue in York. El-Ge went through several acquisitions, eventually becoming part of Pepsi’s Frito-Lay company, whose local snack food plant if off of Rt. 462 west of York.

This link should take you to all my potato chip posts. Or you can go to www.yorkblog.com/universal and type potato chips in the search box.

Did potato chips catch on in Russia? We will go into that in my next post.