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Accidental Invention: Potato Chips

WARNING: Reading this article may incite a ravenous craving for potato chips. Viewer discretion is advised.

The crunchy, salty, irresistible snack that you know and love was first created nearly two centuries ago. Potato chips are said to have originated from an interaction between a picky restaurant patron and an irritated cook… But is that really where they came from?

The Legend of the Salty Chef

As the story goes, Native and African American chef George (Speck) Crum worked at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York. One day in 1853, he encountered a particularly fussy eater. Cornelius Vanderbilt had ordered fried potatoes, which he then sent back because they were cut too thick. George, in the act of spiteful pettiness, proceeded to slice a potato as thinly as possible and fry it to a crisp… And Cornelius loved it.

As fun as this story is, historians have mostly debunked it. George Crum still, however, often receives credit for popularizing the snack, as he continued to serve them to enthusiastic patrons.

George’s “Saratoga Chips” quickly became a hit around town and then beyond Upstate New York. In 1860, the chef opened his restaurant, Crum’s House, where each table was served a delicious basket of his famous potato chips. The delicious crisps eventually became quite sought-after throughout the U.S., with the first “Saratoga Chips” being sold in grocery stores in 1895 by William Tappendonby in Cleveland, OH.

Other Cooks in the Kitchen

Over the years, other possible origin stories of the invention of the potato chip have surfaced.

George Crum’s coworker and sister, Catherine Adkins Wicks, also claimed that she was the true inventor of the potato chip. In some versions of the original story, she is said to have been the one who served the thin crips to Cornelius Vanderbilt. In another, Catherine was allegedly peeling potatoes when she accidentally dropped a slice in a pot of boiling fat.

Another Moon’s Lake House employee, “Eliza, the cook,” was claimed to have been making chips as early as 1849. A New York Herald article from the time said her “​​potato frying reputation is one of the prominent matters of remark at Saratoga.” Other restaurant individuals credited with the invention include the owners, restaurant manager Hiram Thomas, and several other cooks.

A different story from Smithsonian Magazine reports that “the earliest known recipe for chips dated to 1817 when an English doctor named William Kitchiner published The Cook’s Oracle, a cookbook that included a recipe for “potatoes fried in slices or shavings.” So, historians have largely agreed that we may, unfortunately, never know the true origin of the chip.

You Can’t Eat Just One

As you can probably guess, the popularity of potato chips grew exponentially, and recipes and production continued to evolve.

In the early 1920s, Herman Lay (name sound familiar?) began making his potato chips and selling them out of the trunk of his car. As he began commercializing the product, rumors spread that the chips had an aphrodisiac quality, which simply bolstered his sales even more.

Smithsonian Magazine also reports that “In 1926, Laura Scudder, a California businesswoman, began packaging chips in wax-paper bags that included not only a ‘freshness’ date but also a tempting boast – ’the Noisiest Chips in the World.’” The new packaging design helped the snack stay fresher and crispier for longer, making them even more popular and allowing them to be mass-marketed.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that potato chips started seeing flavoring, thanks to Irishman Joe “Spud” Murphy. With his founding of Tayto, he developed a manufacturing process that created some of the most popular flavors we still know and love: Sour Cream and Onion, Barbecue, and Salt and Vinegar.

Today, Americans consume about 1.85 billion pounds of potato chips each year, supporting an estimated $10.5 billion industry. Because, in the words of Lay’s 1961 spokesperson Bert Lahr, “You can’t eat just one!”

If you enjoyed this accidental invention story, you might also like the ones about silly putty and Corn Flakes.

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Inventions Ahead of Their Time: NASA Tools

If you’ve got a memory foam mattress you love dearly, you’ve got NASA to thank for that. Temper foam, cochlear implants, and portable computers are just a few of NASA’s incredible inventions that were used for space exploration long before they became everyday items in society.

It’s no secret that space travel requires some pretty advanced technology. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is America’s civil space program whose mission is to “explore, discover, and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity.”

Over the years, NASA has designed technology that has often been ahead of its time. Many of these tools that were created for space travel have evolved into essential technologies we use every day.

Wireless Headphones

In 1961, following a space shuttle incident in which a pilot could not contact his recovery team after the cabin flooded and took out all radio connections, NASA started searching for a self-contained radio transceiver that could be integrated into a helmet. At the time, ITT Labs had recently developed their MS-50 Headset, which used an acoustic tube connected to tiny transducers as both a microphone and receiver. This headset was soon incorporated into a radio receiver called a Kellorad unit that also featured noise-canceling technology.

Eventually, the design found its way into home and office products, creating those Bluetooth headphones you use daily.

Computer Mouse

In the early 1960s, NASA scientist Bob Taylor was “on the lookout for new ways of using computers to make them more useful, more interactive in some sense.” At the time, computers were used simply as arithmetic machines, but Bob and NASA researcher Doug Englebart had more ideas. Together, a project began to develop a device that would help manipulate data and allow humans to be more involved with computing systems.

These ideas expanded past just a computer mouse, as Doug wanted to “develop a way for capturing and sharing wide ranges of information among a group of people who are working cooperatively toward some end.” Thus, the futuristic concept of computers being used with displays, keyboards, and mouses was developed, which eventually led to the types of machines we now use every day.

Memory Foam

In 1966, NASA’s Ames Research Center was working on developing a material that was both soft and super shock-absorbing to help protect pilots in the event of a crash. This polymeric temper foam not only helped cushion seats for impact but also made them more comfortable for the ride.

Once memory foam became available commercially, its uses became practically limitless. It has been used to cushion helmets, car seats, bike seats, military gear, and, of course, those oh-so-cushy mattresses.

Cochlear Implant

In the 1970s, NASA engineer Adam Kissiah Jr., inspired by his struggles with conventional hearing aids, began experimenting with new designs. Using his background knowledge in electronic sensing systems, telemetry, and sound and vibration sensors, Adam created a new type of hearing aid that would also clarify sounds and amplify them.

Adam’s cochlear implant uses digital pulses to stimulate auditory nerve endings and send signals to the brain. Today, over 219,000 patients have received these revolutionary devices, allowing many born deaf to hear for the first time.


In 2013, the Johnson Space Center (JSC) Engineering Directorate built R5 (aka Valkyrie) to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials. This entirely electric bipedal humanoid robot was a first for NASA and was designed to be capable of operating in degraded or damaged human-engineered environments. Ideally, the robot could assist on missions by testing travel and performing human-like tasks where it could be potentially dangerous to send a real person.

With advanced sensors and a body full of maneuverable joints, Val is considered to be one of the most sophisticated robots in existence.

For more stories about influential designs and inspirational innovators, check out our podcast, The Art of Engineering.


Accidental Invention: Corn Flakes

Corn Flakes – the best-selling breakfast cereal in the United States. You know them. You love them. But do you know how they were created? Check out this article to learn the surprising story behind the accidental invention of this iconic Kellogg’s product.

As with many notable inventions, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes were created partially by accident. Though the product may not be what the Kellogg brothers were intending to make at the time, their stroke of culinary luck led to the advent of The Kellogg Company and America’s best-selling breakfast cereal.

The Kellogg Brothers’ Battle Creek Sanitarium 

Before the Kellogg name was associated with cereal and snacks, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his brother Will Kieth (WK) Kellogg were well-known as the operators of the Battle Creek Sanitarium. This so-called “health spa” catered to helping clients tend to a variety of ailments. Treatments included hot and cold water baths, hydro-therapy, electric-current therapy, light therapy, as well as exercise and massage regimens.

The basis of these treatments was inspired by the brothers’ commitment to their faith in the Seventh Day Adventist fundamentalist church. One of the main principles of the religion entailed maintaining the purity of one’s bodily temple. For the Kellogg’s, this meant adhering to a strict “healthy” diet including lots of water and vegetables and discluding substances like alcohol and caffeine.

Bland is Best and Easy to Digest

To support their ideal diets, the brothers started concocting different healthful foods that they and their patients could eat regularly. The goal was to avoid fat, grease, salt, and spices and focus on simple ingredients that were good for the digestive system. So, Dr. John began experimenting by mixing and baking flour, oats, and cornmeal.

As the legend goes, it was during one of these afternoons of cooking that the Kellogg brothers were called away from their kitchen in the midst of mixing a batch of wheat-based cereal and later returned to see that the dough had fermented. When they rolled the dough into thin sheets and baked it, they were positively surprised to find that it turned into perfect crispy and tasty flakes. Over the years, WK continued experimenting with the recipe and eventually found that corn created even more delicious and crunchy flakes than wheat.

A Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Sales go Up

The creation of this flaked cereal occurred alongside the booming of the Industrial Revolution – a time where individuals became busier and needed quicker and easier-to-eat breakfast options. The Kellogg brothers seized this timely opportunity and began to mass-market their product in 1906. Conflict arose, however, when WK started adding sugar to the cereal to make it more palatable, though Dr. John was avidly opposed.

To settle the dispute, WK purchased the rights to use the Kellogg name from his brother after a long legal battle and subsequently founded The Kellogg Cereal Company. The product soon came to boast several “firsts” in the cereal world, including offering the “Funny Jungleland Moving Pictures Booklet” as a prize to encourage sales, and introducing Cornelius (Corny) Rooster as a mascot. Though the Corn Flakes we know today aren’t exactly the health food they were initially designed to be, their success as one of the most iconic and best-selling cereals in the US proves that they were an invention the breakfast world is certainly thankful for.

As the Kellogg brothers discovered, you never know when or how your next great innovation will come to life. If you have an idea you’d like to explore, contact us to let us know how we can help (even if you end up creating something you didn’t expect).

To learn more about Custom Powder Systems and the art of engineering, sign up for our newsletter.

Werner Stengel, the Thrill-Seeking Engineer_blog

Werner Stengel, the Thrill-Seeking Engineer

You are strapped into your seat, the roller coaster cart slowly crawling forward when you see a hill approaching up ahead. You start to get nervously excited as the cart ascends, knowing that you will shortly be subjected to massive amounts of force and speed. Once the cart reaches the top, you take a quick breath before being plunged downward, feeling your stomach flop as you ride through all of the twists and turns. By the end of the ride, you are smiling and laughing and have adrenaline running through your body. The thrill of this feeling is hard to match.

But have you ever stopped to wonder why hurling your body through so many loops and spins isn’t unbearably uncomfortable? Well, for that, you can thank an engineer.

Stengel Applies Science to Fun

One of the most widely-known roller coaster engineers is Werner Stengel, who is recognized for his significant contributions to the advancement of coaster design.

Stengel has devoted his life to studying the forces that act upon the human body, and how to utilize these forces in a way that creates the most enjoyment for the rider. He has been involved with the design of almost 500 roller coasters around the world.

In 2005, he was even awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Göteborg “in recognition of his inexhaustible creativity which connects physics and design with the experience of the body in roller coasters and other rides.”

Stengel’s Stand-Out Coaster Innovations

A well-recognized roller coaster feature created by Stengel is the clothoid loop, which most roller coaster enthusiasts have grown to love. To accomplish this, he analyzed the amount of stress the body endures during vertical loops and improved the design so that could be lessened. The clothoid loop has a constant radius change, so the body is not continuously under the same amount of stress the whole time.

Another noteworthy original design feature of Stengel’s is the heartline roll. Stengel noticed that if the coaster rail is the center of rotation, then the rider’s body (and especially the head) travels a great distance and experiences a lot of extreme forces during a spin. However, he determined, if the center of rotation is the rider’s heart, the head does not travel as far, therefore decreasing stress and discomfort.

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Both of these advancements promote an overall more comfortable and enjoyable experience for the rider. So, those who love to ride the loops and spins can thank Stengel for making it as easy on the body as possible.

Werner Stengel’s work is an excellent example of how one person’s ingenuity combined with the science of engineering can be not only practical but also super fun!


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pass through container

“That’s the Strangest Thing I’ve Ever Seen”

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new comes along.  One that made our Denise McIntosh say, “What is that?  That’s the strangest looking machine I’ve ever seen!”

It’s another innovation from the smart minds in our engineering department. The challenge they encountered was a customer who needed to get product from one room into another. That’s easy. The problem was the wall.

When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, you have an engineering paradox. But not for the engineers at Custom Powder Systems. When we ask them to walk through walls for our customers, they do exactly that.

This fascinating device is a pass-through wall transfer system. The idea is to get a product from one room to another without handling it.  

We always love a good challenge. While we have many products like containers/IBC, isolators, and blending machines that are ready to go for any application, we have a long history of breaking through walls that would stop other companies.

Some people see what we come up with and call it a magic trick. We just see good engineering and proactive problem-solving.

What “walls” are stopping you from being your most efficient? We’ve solved space problems, streamlined overly complex processes, and just straight-up invented things nobody has ever seen before.

Contact us here or simply call 417-868-8002.  Send a challenge our way and we’ll literally go through walls for you

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The Magic Hidden in Determination

If you’ve ever tugged a knotted rope with a puppy, you can be sure that you’ll get tired long before the puppy.

And the puppy already knows it.

In the article “Embrace the Grind” by Jacob Kaplan-Moss, he goes into the detail (and determination) involved in pulling off a magic trick. Magic and good engineering have something in common:  When it’s done right, people stand wide-eyed and wonder how it was done.

As the article shows, magicians spend a disproportionate amount of time setting up a magic trick. Likewise, engineers put 90% of their effort in planning. It’s a law that engineers know all-too-well:  Months of planning, thousands of calculations, and dozens of times starting from scratch, just to make a process easier.

In other words:  It’s hard to make something easy.

If you’re the type who doesn’t like to know how a magic trick is done, don’t read the article. One of the key points is that there seems to be a relation between how long it takes for a magician to set up a trick, and how blown away the audience is. Some magic tricks can take weeks and 38 complex elements just to pull off a 5-minute trick.

Top magicians “Embrace the Grind.”

The best engineers do that, too. Like a puppy pulling on a rope, they never seem to tire. Like magicians, the more time engineers apply to a project…the more efficient (and impressive) the result will be.

We’re ready to go to work and build a magic trick for your operation!

Contact us here, or just call (417) 868-8002

Downtime Just Ahead Green Road Sign with Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

Read This Part About Parts

Meet your biggest enemy: Downtime. When machines go down, customers don’t get taken care of, the time clock keeps ticking up your payroll, and money stops coming in. 

Unfortunately, machines break down. It’s one of the inevitable truths of anything with moving parts. Fighting the downtime enemy means being smart about your inventory of replacement parts. Fortunately, Custom Powder Systems has your back. 

At Custom Powder Systems, we warehouse over 5,000 parts. In stock parts are available to ship immediately if/when you experience a breakdown.   Parts that are not in stock may have a lengthy lead which will lead to longer downtime and lost production.    If you were to call and say “that thingy that sticks out the left side,” you can be sure we’ll know just the thingy you’re talking about and get it to you right away.

Granted, our super-smart customers rarely call things “thingys,” but the point is – even if you don’t know the part number or the specific name, we gotcha covered.

Broken Machinery

Our job is to be on standby so whenever it’s time for a replacement part, we’ll get it to you lickity-split. We keep everything organized and easy to get to, so you don’t have to worry about a thing. We’ll even give you recommendations on maintenance parts you should always have on hand, like custom gaskets, filters, and lid/clamping assemblies, reducing any downtime next to zero.

Equipment purchases come with a Turn Over Package (T.O.P.) list with a detailed Spare Parts List, and QA Documentation, Material Test Reports, as well as other important information.  With your detailed T.O.P. list, you’ll know exactly the various parts you’ll want to have on hand.  

Breakdowns happen.  Downtime doesn’t have to!  

Let’s get ready for a busy 2021 and make sure you have the parts to get you through the year. Call our Parts Specialist Kimberly Wallace at 417-868-8002, or reach out via email by clicking here

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IBC Container Bin Resolutions(+ A Case Study)

There’s nothing magic about the date “January 1st.”  It will be a Friday, so it has that going for it.  But, collectively, we have decided that it’s a day for a new beginning.  A day to start resolutions.  A commitment to make 2021 better than 2020 (not a high bar to clear, but still).

The real magic day is December 31.  For many businesses, that’s the last day to make an investment in your company before the I.R.S. taxes those dollars.  And in the spirit of resolutions, Custom Powder is going to help you lose weight, get organized, and be happier in 2021. In addition to the tax advantages, place an order before 2020 runs out and receive a 2% discount on any payments made by year end.  

Lose Weight

Provident Nutraceutical—a Division of Ortho Molecular Products realized one of their manufacturing plants could use some extra space and turned to us for ideas.  Large, clunky industrial barrels were replaced with IBC Container Bins as a way to “trim down” the space that was being used up.  Eric Peterson, Maintenance Supervisor for Provident, says this was done without losing capacity.  The IBC Container Bins have “larger capacity, but with a smaller footprint,” says Peterson.  “Previously, we were using barrels with double-lined bags…the reusability of the new bins makes things much more efficient with less waste.”

Get Organized

The bins also provided better organization for Provident.  Brad Clary, Midwest Sales Executive for Custom Powder, was able to help Provident’s operation run smoother.  “We had already developed the EZ-Down machinery, but this was going to be one of the largest drops we’ve designed,” says Clary.  “It had to hit its destination, and still stay blended.”  Eric Peterson also notes how this helped the operators on Provident’s fill line.  “We had an auger system that would feed from the bottom, getting the room quite messy.  With the EZ-Down System, it’s all contained and it’s made a huge difference on the cleanliness of the room.”

Be Happier

Provident was also aware that their previous process was presenting ergonomic difficulties.  “There’s a certain size hopper on the machine and the operators would have to scoop it full.  As the machine runs through the powder, they would have to scoop it to keep it full so the machine would keep running,” said Peterson.  “So there was a time-wasting issue here, and with Custom Powder we got to figure out a better way to do this.”

The process, like everything we do, was customized for Provident.  Custom Powder’s Brad Clary says, “we had already created solutions for Provident, so we had a bit of a head start.  We knew what their processes were, and how they operate, so it was an advantage in helping them with this solution.”

Peterson and his team from Provident were able to come to Custom Powder for the F.A.T. and watch the new process in action before it was ever put in place at their operation.  “That was huge,” says Peterson.  “The previous exposure we had to it was at the PACK Expo, so to actually see our product go through the system and actually talk to the guys who built it was key.”

(Side note:  We’ve gotten pretty darn good at virtual F.A.T.s this year, giving our customers the same experience from thousands of miles away)

When you put it all together, Provident ended up with a custom system that helped them lose weight (and gaining more floor space at their plant), get organized (by finding a cleaner, more efficient way to store their product, and they’re happier (because their operators can save time and use their skills more effectively).

Before 2020 runs out, place an order and receive a 2% discount on any payments made by year end.  

Let’s resolve to make 2021 a great year together! 

Get in touch by using our contact form, or call Custom Powder at (417) 868-8002.

10 Great Gratitude Quotes

10 Great Gratitude Quotes

This week, we celebrate Thanksgiving in the US, where it has been an… unusual… year. In some ways, our world feels larger, and in other it feels smaller. Whether you’re a client, vendor, or partner here in the States, or you’re among those we count as friends around the world, we are more thankful for you than ever.

In the coming weeks as well as in 2021, we hope we can demonstrate our gratitude by giving more than we receive, by helping in ways over and above what’s expected, and in always remembering one thing above all else:

Custom Powder Systems isn’t in the containment business. We may provide solutions to containment problems, but we are in the relationship business.

To keep things light this week, in addition to our latest podcast episode featuring Lynn Aurelius, we thought we’d share these ten great quotes about gratitude suitable for copying, pasting, and sharing.

Thanks for sharing your business and friendship with us.

quote from Naomi Williams

Quote from John Wooden

quote from Ralph Blum

Quote from Albert Schweitzer

Quote from Willie Nelson

Quote from Oprah Winfrey

Quote from Christine Northup

Quote from Harold Kushner

Quote from Marian Wright Edelman

Quote from Ralph Marston

Happy Thanksgiving, Friends!