The Ohio Potato Chip Named after my Grandma’s Votes-Forward 1920s Hairdo

Ballreich’s Marcelled Potato Chips and my Grandmother in her marcelled hairdo.

My favorite era is the 1920s.  I love the music, the art, the architecture, the style, the philosophy. I think I may have owned a nightclub in Berlin in the 1920s in a former life.   It was also a good era for one of my fave snack foods – the potato chip – particularly in Ohio.   Grippos, Husmans and Ballreichs were all created in near succession in the first part of the 1920s.

2021 was a good and bad year for local potato chips.    Our 100 year old local brand Husman was retired by new owner Utz, a Pennsylvania brand now invading our snack shelves at a rapid rate.  But there’s also good news for another Ohio chip company, Ballreich’s who’s celebrating their 100th anniversary into 2021 with three new flavors, and going strong, also expanding nationally outside of Ohio.    Their signature wavy, zig-zag chip was named after a popular 1920s hairdo my maternal grandmother wore into the 1930s. – the Marcel.     Local Tom and Chee chain also invented the Grippos BBQ Grilled Cheese, which looks amazing.

Long before there were Lays “Ruffles with Ridges”, there were Ballreich’s Marcelled potato chips – the term applied to chips right here in Ohio – Tiffin, to be exact.    Ballreich’s Potato Chips aren’t just rippled, they’re “marcelled”.   Incidentally, Frito Lay has one of the largest potato chip factories in Ohio.  The term was borrowed from the new short wavy hairdo for the liberated, empowered, now vote-worthy American woman of the 1920s.    Dancer and performer Josephine Baker was a famous wearer of the style.    Even some super-fashionable men marcelled their hair – the early Metrosexuals. 

The Downton Abby ladies with marcelled hair (left), the inventor of the hairdo (center) and a fashionable man sporting it.

The Marcell hairstyle was invented by a French immigrant hairdresser, Marcel Grateau (1852–1936) in the 1870s.  The inventor and stylist emigrated to the United States and changed his name to François Marcel Woelfflé, sometimes reported as François Marcel. He was granted U.S. patents for implements for performing the technique; the first, U.S. patent 806386, entitled “Curling-Iron”, was published in 1905, and the second, entitled “Hair-Waving Iron”, for an electric version, under the name François Marcel, was published in 1918.  The hairstyle became popular for women with new bobbed short haircuts. Women with long hair could also wear it if they tied their hair back at the neckline and pinned it in the back with a fashionable dragonfly or butterfly pin.  One of my favorite pictures of my maternal grandmother is her formal 1930s portrait in her marcelled hairstyle.  I think it’s one of the most elegant and beautiful women’s hairstyles.  It had a brief resurgence recently with movie stars like Kate Hudson and Charlize Theron on the red carpet.   Even the ladies of Downton Abbey marcelled their hair when the series roared into the 1920s.

In 1920, Fred and Ethel Ballreich started to fry potato chips for their friends and neighbors in their dirt floor garage, using a copper kettle heated with wood scraps,  at 186 Ohio Avenue in Tiffin. Their chips were so delicious, everyone craved more. They started by producing four pounds of chips daily from their garage, but the demand became so high that the pair finally decided to start their official business with Fred’s brother, an engineer, who designed equipment that could produce 450 pounds of chips a day. Today, three generations later, the Ballreich’s Snack Food Company produces 2,000 pounds of chips an hour!

Ballreich’s marcelled chips

In addition to regular, BBQ, flat (unmarcelled) and no salt they make – Sweet Thai Chili, Ghost Pepper Jack, Salt & Vinegar, Honey Butter, Sour Cream and Onion, Sweet Mesquite BBQ, Smoked Cheddar and Onion  – they also make flavored popcorn, tortilla chips, cheese curls, cinnamon apple puffs, corn puffs, pretzels, and pork rinds.

For food pairings, the company recommends smashing regular Ballreich’s into a PB & J or on a burger or crushing them over a hot casserole.    I’m sorry Utz, but if I go anywhere outside of Grippo’s it will be Ballreich’s for this spud fan.     And as we roar into the 2020’s maybe its time for a resurgence of Marcelled hair.   Don’t be surprised if you see me at my first public event with marcelled man-hair.

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