History And Wonder At The Potato Museum



The Pride Of A County: Idaho Potato Museum

Founded In 1988 And Created To Promote Potatoes, Education, And Hospitality In The Nations #1 Potato Producing State

Idaho Potato Museum [Courtesy/Idaho Potato Museum]

Located in the potato capital of the world, the Idaho Potato Museum's mission statement is to promote Idaho potatoes, education and hospitality. “Potatoes are part of who we are,” proclaims Executive Director Tish Dahmen. “It has created who we are.”

Originally from Boise, Idaho, Dahmen said she was “more of a city girl” but she has always grown up around potatoes. “I took potatoes for granted,” she continues. “But people who come through – all of our visitors – they really want to be connected to their food sources and want to know where their food is coming from.”

Idaho is, by and large, an agricultural community...and it produces 30 percent of the nation's output of potatoes. It's the biggest part of the state's economy. The Potato Museum itself was established in 1988 in Blackfoot because of its location in Bingham County, which produces more potatoes than any other county in the entire United States.

These are the types of things that the Potato Museum tries to showcase. One of the items in the museum is a conveyer belt used by potato sellers to move potatoes into their trucks, adapted from the Sputnik, created by Leonidas and Hobbes in 1958.

“It was very innovative at the time,” said Dahmen. “Until then, people were doing it by hand. Around the same time, the company Milestone started producing the first seed potato cutter, which was highly innovate because up until that time people – farmers – were cutting the potatoes into quarters by hand or with a foot-powered tool. You could make 36 bags of potato seeds a day. With the potato seed cutter, it could do 36 to 40 in an hour. That's pretty important because some farmers in this area have 30,000 acres that they plant every year.”

These items can be found in an agricultural room that showcases farming implements. “One that I like,” continues Dahmen, “is a potato planter that was used in 1886. It's all wood, really weathered. We have a prototype of the Spudnik as well.”

A Vast Array Of Potatoes In Idaho [Courtesy/Visit Idaho]
Idaho Potatoe Museum Sculpture [Photo Credit: Peg Owens]
Worker Stands Ontop Of A Multitude Of Potatoes [Courtesy/Idaho Potatoe Museum]

There is also general information on harvesting and growing potatoes. And of course, its history. Potatoes came from Peru in the Andes Mountains (“not Ireland, like many people think”). Early explorers discovered them when they went to South America looking for gold. But potatoes may have been the better find.

“Potatoes changed the world,” said Dahmen. “Europe adopted the potato as a food source and it contributed to world food stability. Before potatoes, there were famines in Europe every 10 to 15 years.”

While the potato is very important to the world, the Idaho Potato Museum, is not all serious. There's a space for children to do potato-related experiments. There's a movie theater with talking potatoes. And there's the largest potato crisp, created by Proctor & Gamble, the makers of Pringles. It was created in Cincinati, Ohio on June 3, 1991 and is 25 by 14 inches. It weights over 5 ounces and contains over 900 calories.

“I've learned there's a gazillion ways to eat potatoes,” said Dahmen. “Some people even eat them raw, but that's not what I would do. Potatoes get a very bad rap because they are high in sugar and starch. But you can exist on potatoes alone.”

Working at the Idaho Potato Museum taught Dahmen to never take potatoes for granted again. Many other Americans who have visited the museum also left feeling in awe of the seemingly humble potato. Americans eat potatoes in many of their meals, but there's more to spuds than people may think. The Idaho Potato Museum hopes to be a place where potato lovers – and curious travelers – will flock to to understand more about the potato industry and history. And to see the world's largest Pringle.


Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.

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