I recently discovered an old potato chip tin of the Up-to-Date company of Norwood, Ohio. The white painted can had green lettering with red outline in 1940s era art deco script, with almost a Christmasy feel, and the words Crispy and Fresh. Their address was 4920 Montgomery Road, Norwood, Ohio. On the tin it noted simple ingredients: Grade 1 potato chips, vegetable shortening, and salt. There were no monosodium glutamate, or other hard to pronounce chemical additives . These chips were not meant to go very far, nor were they meant to sit very long on a shelf.
With regional brands like Husman, Grippo, and Mike Sells, this one I had never heard of.
Ohio is second only to Pennsylvania in its number of independent chip companies. As of 2017, Ohio has 10 independent chippers. There’s Ballreich’s in Tiffin (1920) , Jones in Mansfield (1940), Mike Sells in Dayton (1910) , Husman in Cincy (1919) , Grippos (1919) in Cincy, Shearer’s in Massillon (1979) , Conn’s in Zanesville, Mumford in Urbana (1932), and Wagner’s in Miamisburg (1978). The New Kid on the block, Hen of the Woods, in Over-the-Rhine came into the market in the last few years. Both Herr’s and Frito Lay, which operate out of the state, have chip making plants in Ohio.
Jones Chips has a specific chip style indigenous to central Ohio. It’s called a ‘marcelled chip’ or wavy style, named after the wavy art deco women’s hairstyle of the 1930s. Some believe that Dan Dee of Cleveland sold the Ruffles name to Frito Lay
It’s as if every small Ohio town at one time had its own potato chip company – or several. Massilon, for example, thirty miles south of Akron, at one time had three chippers: Gold N Krisp, Kitch’n Cook’d, and Gee-Gee’s. There were four more in Cleveland, only forty five miles away – Dan Dee, Num Num, Restemeier, and Johnnies. In Akron there were Salem, O.K., Flaherty, and Tyler’s. Toledo had Kuehlman and Q-Man. Even Columbus had Buckeye Potato Chips and Bowling Green had Cain’s. In fact, it was Ohio chipper, Don Nuss of Num Num chips who started what would become the National Potato Chip Institute, the lead organization for the $6.3 billion dollar industry.
So, getting back to the Up-to-Date Company of Norwood, Ohio. Its origin story comes out of another Cincinnati company. In about 1926, Harry Jaspers was working as a machinist for Henry Husman Potato chip company in Cincinnati. Husman is one of the oldest chip companies in the U.S. , founded in 1919 in Henry Husman’s basement. But, after working on the Husman manufacturing equipment, Jaspers thought he could compete and create his own better chip, maybe less expensively than with the Snowden potatoes used by chippers that had to be stored cold.
Jaspers may have named his company after the Up-to-Date potato variety. It was a Scottish potato variety released in 1894, that stood the test of time. It was a popular all around potato that’s flattened, yet oval with light buff skin and off white flesh good for mashing and baking and promoted for processing into French fries. Although it wasn’t specifically designed or used as a chip potato, many liked the flavor of Up-to-Date chips better than Husman, next to whom they sold on most shelves.
Back in the 1920s, potato chips were still a novelty and not the snack industry behemoth that they are today. There weren’t sold in the elegant foil bags that can hold chips on shelves for months at a time. No, you typically went to the store where they were made or delivered fresh, and scooped them from a glass case or large tin into wax coated or brown bags and paid by the pound.
As waterproof packaging and other improvements became available by the 1930s, the potato chips industry went from a cottage industry to one with larger distribution networks. Most chips, without preservatives became rancid when exposed to UV light, so opaque packaging became the norm.
So, Jerry took his chip making experience, found a partner in Jules Super and opened the Up-to-Date Potato chip company in the early 1920s. They sold their greasy, crunchy potato chips first in large refillable tins, much like Husman, and then waxy bags. As they grew, they developed a network of delivery around Cincinnati and across the river to northern Kentucky like Carl Wendroth’s grocery at Vine and Lindsay in Dayton Kentucky. In addition to Husman, Up-to-Date competed with other regional brands like Gordons and Martin’s potato chips. The chip developed a local following, but never made it out of the Greater Cincinnati area.
By 1939, Jaspers had sold out his share in the company to Super, and opened the Mt. Echo Tavern on Elberon Avenue in Price Hill. The Up-to-Date company eventually closed in the late 1960s, as many regional brands did because of shelf slotting fees, and the power of Lays and larger snack companies. Oddly enough, Harry’s son Donald L. Jasper, worked his way up to being VP and GM of Husman’s when they sold in 1990.