York County Potato Chip Makers Include Snyder’s of Hanover
About a year ago I did a series of blog posts on York County potato chip makers, large and small, of the past and present. It proved to be such a popular subject that I recently consolidated local potato chip history in a recent York Sunday News column. (See the column at the end of this post.)
I was reminded by a reader that there is another sizable manufacturer of potato chips in the area that I hadn’t mentioned–Snyder’s of Hanover. My only excuse was that’s I’m such a fan of Snyder’s of Hanover pretzels, especially the Honey Mustard & Onion Pretzel Pieces, that I just didn’t think about their chips.
According to the websites of Snyder’s of Hanover and of Snyder of Berlin, also started by the same family, Eda and Edward Snyder II started potato chip production at their home on Centennial Ave. in Hanover, PA in 1920s. Son William V. Snyder, with wife Helen, ran a bakery, producing angel food cakes, along with noodles made with the egg yolks left over from using the whites for the angel foods. The two generations combined the businesses in 1924, with daughter Edythe Snyder and her husband Clair H. “Barb” Sterner also coming on board in the late 1920s.
The Snyder family started production at the Berlin, Somerset Co., PA plant in 1947 to take advantage of good quality potatoes in that area as well as easier distribution to the Pittsburgh area. Edythe and Barb Sterner bought the Berlin plant in 1950 and their son Gary later managed the operation. Snyder of Berlin became part of Pinnacle Foods Group late in 2009, as part of Pinnacle’s purchase of Birds Eye Foods.
William L. “Billy” Snyder, son of William V. and Helen Snyder, sold the Hanover plant to Hanover Canning, now Hanover Foods, in 1961. They, in turn, “spun off” Hanover Snacks in 1980. Snyder’s of Hanover has continued to grow over the years. Besides the flagship pretzels and chips, the company now makes popcorn, tortilla and vegetable chips, as well as Krunchers! and Jays potato chips, at plants all over the country. In July 2010 Snyder’s of Hanover and Lance, Inc. announced a pending merger of the two large snack food companies.
Since I believe in thorough research, I set off to the supermarket to find some Snyder’s of Hanover potato chips, to no avail. You can buy the chips, just not in retail groceries. After checking with the company, I found that, yes, they do make lots of Snyder’s potato chips in Hanover, but they are virtually all packaged in one oz. bags for vending machines and for food service companies. I’ll be checking out the vending machines, but in the meantime, I see their Krunchers! brand chips are available at the local Giant and Weis stores–think I’ll try the Sweet Hawaiian Onion. All their brands are also available at their factory outlet store.
See below for more on York County chips:
Who doesn’t love a good potato chip?
Utz? Martin’s? Workplaces and families are divided into two camps by these chips, and rarely will you find someone who loves them both.
Potato chips have been a part of York County’s agricultural and manufacturing history for at least a hundred years. The first chip manufacturer found in York City directories is Jacob W. Strine, who made Bon-Ton chips at 574 West Clark Ave. in 1911.
The popular story is that potato chips were created in 1853 by chef George Crum in Saratoga, NY, in response to a diner’s complaint that his sliced potatoes were too thick. Accounts say that until the late 1800s the crispy potato slices were served as a side dish with a meal. Then individuals started frying them in their kitchens or small factories and distributing them to grocery stores, where they were scooped out of tins. Wax paper bags came into use in the 1920s, keeping the chips fresher and making them easier to sell to the customers.
Potatoes and lard were abundant in the area, allowing people, like Salie and William Utz, to start small and grow. The Utz enterprise began in 1921 in the summer kitchen in the rear of their home in Hanover. They could produce 50 pounds an hour, using hand-operated equipment. By 1936 they had obtained an automatic potato chip cooker and were producing 300 pounds an hour. Salie made the chips and Bill delivered them to stores and markets. In 1949 they built a 6,800 sq. ft. plant on Carlisle St. Salie passed away in 1965 and Bill in 1968, but the business stayed in the family, expanding under their son-in-law, F. X. Rice. Pretzels and popcorn were added in the 1970s and cheese curls in 1986. Distribution area was expanded throughout Maryland and into more states. Utz grandson Mike Rice took over in 1978, adding tortilla chips and other snacks. Today they produce over 1,000,000 pounds of potato chips alone every week and distribute nationally.
Harry and Fairy Martin started frying chips in their farm kitchen in 1941, just like the Utz family. The Martin’s built up quite a following, but kept their business fairly low key. They delivered the chips fresh daily to “mom and pop” groceries and market stands from their small factory, building a larger plant in Thomasville in 1953.
In 1971 Ken and Sandy Potter purchased the small business, with one truck, two full-time and four part-time employees. Ken Potter had started working for El-Ge chips when he was a teenager. The Potters added territory and products, including Wege pretzels and popcorn. According to the Martin’s website, they now deliver over 50 routes and produce over a million bags of chips a month at their enlarged Thomasville plant, now run by Potter sons. Mrs. Martin continued to work for the Potters, and in her eighties still drove a Martin’s truck to tend a stand at Eastern Market.
Another York County brand is Bon-Ton. George Coover started making Bon-Ton chips in the 1920s on Richland Ave. It is not clear if they were connected to the Bon-Ton chips advertized by J. W. Strine in 1911. Hanover Foods acquired the Bon-Ton plant in 2000. The company still makes Bon-Ton chips as well as the Bickel’s brand in several buildings at that site, still scenting the air with aromas of frying chips.
According to clippings in the York County Heritage Trust file on potato chips, the El-Ge (LG) potato chip company was founded by Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Gillespie around 1937, starting out in an eight foot by twelve foot building at Richland Ave. and College Ave. The factory was enlarged eight times before being relocated to the West York Industrial Park in 1965. After being operated by several generations of Gillespies, El-Ge was sold to Southland Corp. in 1984. Eagle Snacks (Anheuser-Busch) bought the company in 1992, and the Frito-Lay division of Pepsi took over the plant sometime in the next few years. All flavors of Lays and all flavors of Doritos corn chips are produced at the West Manchester township plant. The former El-Ge buildings at Richland and College now seem to be part of Bickel’s present day factory, even though the two brands don’t seem to be related.
Other chips have come and gone, but the memories linger. Senft’s were made in a small factory on Sheridan St. I remember them as a crunchy, Martin’s type chip. Friends who grew up in Hallam remember the Bailey chip factory at 277 East Market St. The brand name may have been Dutch Boy. I’ve been told Top Hat chips were made at the Krispy Products plant at Vander and Boundary avenues in York in the 1940s. The National Biscuit Co. bought the company around 1950, closing down around 1956.
The most lamented missing chip brand is Charles Chips. They were made in Mountville, Lancaster County, but widely distributed in York County through home delivery. Every week or so the Charles Chip man would bring the familiar cream and brown can with a fresh supply of the crispy, Utz-type treats. We kept ours on top of the refrigerator, out of the way, but still accessible.
Besides being an avowed Utz fan, my interest in potato chips is a personal one. When the price my farming family could get for their potatoes fell to extreme lows during the Great Depression, my parents found it was much more profitable to slice and fry the potatoes and sell them to stores and restaurants, even selling the little wax paper bags of Burk’s Potato Chips in cigar factories. When the economy improved they got out of the chip business, so Burk’s didn’t become a household name like Utz, Martin’s or Lay’s. I’m just hoping that one of those little Burk’s bags will turn up at a public sale or antique mall someday–keep your eyes peeled.