The Original Rockford Nostalgic Website
In 1932 in order to make money during the depression Eugene Fisher came up with the idea of frying potato chips in the basement of their home at 109 Seventh Street. Along with his wife Ethel they peeled and sliced potatoes and fried the slices in vegetable shortening on a two-burner wash stove and sold them as Mr. and Mrs. Fisher's Potato Chips on a small scale. At first the demand was small and they only sold a few sacks day. Eugene would also come up with the idea for ‘Spuddy’, a cheerful potato wearing a top hat and dancing in a dizzying circle with two children, which they would use as their logo. The logo is still in use today and has changed little over the years.
Eugene ended up leaving Ethel, his daughter and the business during the depression, Ethel Fisher removed his name from the branding and she changed the name of the product to Mrs. Fisher’s Potato Chips. By using only the best quality potatoes and only the best vegetable shortening her chips grew more popular. She would move the company to a larger location at 1001 - 1003 Fifth Avenue on the corner with Sixth Street around 1936. They installed better and larger equipment, the most up to date and sanitary at the time. However the potatoes were still peeled and sliced by hand.
In the Vita-Seald process, the sliced potato is dropped directly into the hot grease and not soaked in water first. All of the flavor and the minerals, as a result, are retained in the potato chip. The process produces a potato chip in which the flavor and minerals are the same as found in a baked potato. (Seald is purposely misspelled on the package) The chips are sealed in moisture proof bags to protect the flavor of the chips.
Ethel would sell the business to route long time route driver Sylvester Hahn in 1949. Hahn would sell the business to Anthony and Mario Marsili. After enjoying success as part owner of Vic & Mario's Tavern in Loves Park, which is still in business today as Vic & Jim's, Mario and his brother, Tony purchased Mrs. Fisher's Potato Chips in 1962. Mario was also a distributer of Mrs. Fisher’s Chips along with his tavern involvement. The brothers would move the business to 2403 Grant Avenue to a new building in 1965. In 1977 they would once again move the business to a new facility built at 1231 Fulton Avenue where they remain today.
Photo courtesy of Mrs. Fisher's
In 1978 the Marsili's would sell the company to Chuck, Pete and Paul DiVenti who would operate it for the next 29 years until their retirement. They would sell the business to longtime employee Roma Hailman and her husband Mark in August 2007. Roma worked for the company for 26 years before becoming the owner.
Mrs. Fisher's Potato Chips are a regional product but can be ordered for shipping through their website. The plant which covers 10,000 square feet uses 2.5 million pounds of potatoes a year where they are unloaded, washed sliced, fried and salted and packaged into bags for distribution. Mrs. Fisher's still produce the chips in Rockford and fresh chips can be purchased at the potato chip plant. After 80 years in business, Mrs. Fisher's is one of the Midwest's longest enduring chip makers. For you out of town folks craving some Mrs. Fisher's Chips,you can order Mrs. Fisher's Chips Online by clicking here.
Blue Star Foods was founded by Theodore and John Sachs in July 1939 after moving here from Madison, Wisconsin. Theodore held the title of president and general manager while John was the secretary. The Rockford Chamber of Commerce along with the real estate firm of Knapp-Barnes worked to find a tenant for the building owned by the Atwood Vacuum Machine Company located at 2434 Fremont Street. The company made potato chips at its factory which was equipped with all modern equipment. They purchased a fleet of delivery trucks to deliver their products to Illinois, Iowa, and parts of Indiana and Minnesota. Their product line consisted of Potato Chips, Potato Wafers, Shelled Nuts, Un-popped Pop Corn, Ruffles Potato Chips, Shoestring Potato’s; Oke-Doke French fried Popcorn and Cheese Flavored Popcorn.
Blue Star Foods also provided potato chips to Leonard Japp, Sr. who ran a Chicago based snack food distribution business, supplying small Chicago grocery stores with a wide variety of goods, including spaghetti noodles, noodles, jelly, salad dressing, and dog food as well as candy, popcorn and potato chips. Japp purchased pretzels, taffy apples and potato chips from Mrs. Fletcher's Potato Chip Company. In 1934 he began packaging the snacks under his own brand name, Mrs. Japp's. Japp was not pleased with the quality of Mrs. Fletcher's chips, and eagerly switched to a new lighter chip fried in corn oil that was made by a company in Madison, Wisconsin named Special Foods. Sales soared for Special Foods, but the Wisconsin Company soon closed its doors.
Japp found a new source for chips at Blue Star Foods in Rockford. It was during this time that Japp's wife Eugenia, who was an accomplished cook came up with the idea that has since become standard in the food industry; placing recipes on the packaging to tell consumers how to use the product. Because of the Depression she was especially interested in helping housewives stretch their food budgets. One of the recipes she developed and her husband persuaded Blue Star Foods to print on the packaging became an American classic - tuna noodle casserole with crumbled potato chips on top.
The Japp Company was Blue Star Foods largest customer but its demands were too great for Blue Star to meet them. As a result the partners at Japp's decided to make their own chips, and in 1940 they invested in an $18,000 automatic potato chip machine to begin making potato chips under the Mrs. Japp's label. After the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, grocery stores began demanding that the potato chips be removed from their shelves since “Jap" had quickly became a derogatory term for the much despised enemy. Forced to act quickly, Japp's was renamed to Jays Potato Chips and Jays Foods were born.
Blue Star Foods would continue to prosper without Jay's and kept making potato chips from Grade A Potatoes - U. S. No. 1, properly stored, and thoroughly inspected. Washed and peeled by modern automatic machinery. Sliced thin by automatic rotary knives which produced even paper-thin slices. The potatoes were de-starched by a scientific process. Even, regulated frying temperatures provided by automatic fryers made the chips golden crisp, and avoided over saturation. Only the finest quality pure filtered vegetable oils were used for the frying process. The chips would land on a conveyor belt and an automatic roller insured the chips were salted "just right" as the continued along the conveyor. Freshness was insured by packing the chips in cello sealed metal containers and in later years in boxes. Speedy delivery to the grocers in spring cushioned trucks assured whole unbroken chips. All were produced in a modern plant with plenty of light, sanitary work areas and the newest type of automatic machinery. Production capacity was 25,000,000 packages of tasty foods a year. The chips were guaranteed fresh or your money back according to the company.
The company continued to prosper which necessitated a move to a larger facility. The company found one at 626 South Sixth Street at the corner with Sixth Avenue and moved the company there in April 1945. They would continue to grow and remained in this location until 1960. This building is still in existence.
Some workers along the Blue Star Potato Chip production line.
Recipes were included in every box of Blue Star Potato Chips
The company continued to grow and prosper it was in need once again of a larger production facility. In 1960 Blue Star Foods would move to a 10,000 square foot modern facility at 1100 Windsor Road in suburban Loves Park. They would continue in operation at this location until 1977 when they would cease production and place the business up for sale. It would not be long before the found a buyer for the company; Chicago based snack food distributer Vitner's purchased the assets the same year.
Blue Star Chips Recipe Book from the early 1950's. Click on the image to view the booklet
Marie and Charles Vitner founded C. J. Vitner Company in 1926 to service five south side retail outlet storefronts by selling candy, magazines, tobacco products and ice cream in Chicago. During the Great Depression they started selling snack food products to taverns in the area. They invested in a popcorn machine for their store on South Ashland Avenue and they sold fresh popcorn in paper bags and filled five gallon pails to be peddled to the local taverns. Being successful with the popcorn they added potato chips and pretzels to the list. Before they knew it they had six route trucks selling exclusively to the taverns. They kept growing and buying larger buildings to accommodate their growing business. His son James would join the company and once Charles decided to retire, James son, Bill joined the Vitner Company which resulted in the company moving into a larger facility in Chicago's Southwest side. They continued to distribute other company's brands such as Fairmont Foods, Chesty Blue Star Foods and Rold Gold pretzels. The Vitner's knew that if they wanted to continue to grow, they would need to establish their own label and get into manufacturing. In 1977 the ten acre potato chip manufacturing facility of Blue Star Foods in Loves Park, Illinois went up for sale. Jim and Bill knew that it was a golden opportunity, and purchased the facility where they started making their own brand name potato chips. As the brand name increased in sales, the purchase of a 100,000 square foot facility at 4202 W. 45th St. in Chicago was acquired to handle the Chicago area demand for the Vitner line of snacks. This is when the company really started to grow. 1987 the Loves Park manufacturing facility was modernized and expanded. The $4.5 million project included a state of the art kitchen and the most advanced machinery available at that time as the Vitner distributorship grew to serve eight other states. As the company moved into the 1990's, management saw that they were rapidly outgrowing the Loves Park plant which was landlocked and had been expanded in the past to its fullest capacity. A fifty five acre site in Freeport, Illinois was purchased for the new snack food plant. Construction started on the plant in the early 1990's and opened in February 1992. The plant was the most modern snack food producing facility in the country with all state-of-the-art equipment. Whereas the Loves Park plant only produced potato chips and popcorn the addition of the Freeport plant added extruded products, corn chips, corn pops and tortilla chips to the Vitner brand snack line. In January 3, 2012 Vitner's was purchased by the Snak King Corporation in City of Industry, California for an undisclosed price.
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