George Crum and Philo T. Farnsworth: Inventors of what we eat and watch
By Jeremy Selwyn
and Keith Shaw
Would TV be the same without a bag of chips?
Television and snacking are an inseparable pair, much like Lucy & Ethel, Lenny & Squiggy, or Itchy & Scratchy. TV wouldn't be half as popular if not for the nearly continuous consumption of salty treats that goes on in close proximity.
(Star wipe to a boardroom in the 1930s, where executives are discussing how to sell television to the masses.)
OK, that might not be quite how it happened, but history bears us out.
George Crum was definitely on to something when he accidentally invented potato chips in 1853 by slicing potatoes extra thin to spite a complaining customer. Crum had no idea that someday, potato chips would be sold in flavors that include steak & onion, salt & vinegar, roast beef & mustard, ketchup, turkey, ham & pickle, paprika, or sour cream & clam.
Potatoes were also on the mind of Philo T. Farnsworth when he conceived of television on an Idaho farm in 1921. Looking out over the parallel rows of a potato field he had just plowed, Farnsworth realized that parallel beams of electrons could create an image. Of course, Farnsworth didn't know that logical extensions of his idea would include the Game Show Network, the Food Network, Beavis & Butt-head or four ESPNs. He also didn't realize just how good TV would end up being for potato farmers.
Ever since they became linked, TV and snacking have evolved at pretty much the same pace. In the 60s and 70s, remote controls became popular. No longer did TV viewers need to waste valuable seconds getting up from the sofa to change the channel. Meanwhile, Pringles were introduced in 1969 industry's response to the overwhelming consumer demand for uniformly shaped chips that come in a can. No longer did snackers need to worry about which chip was the biggest or which chip to eat next.
The innovations continue. Black and white TV begat color TV. Potato chips begat ripple chips. TV buyers were offered HDTV. Cheetos went from being simply "cheesy" to "dangerously cheesy." This year, everyone's selling those all-in-one DVD/VCR combos. Well, it's about time: For several years, snack companies have been selling chips and dip together in a convenient all-in-one package.
So what does the future hold for TV and snacking?
TV, of course, is moving toward providing content on-demand. No matter your mood, you'll be able to choose any programming that you want, and it will instantly appear on your screen.
We'd like to see snacks on demand say what you want, push a button, and the Snack-O-Tron pops out a bowl of salt & pepper-flavored tortilla chips, hot buttered popcorn, or jalapeno-flavored potato chips. This might remind you of the food replicators on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." But we hope the real future ends up being better than Gene Roddenberry's. Did you ever see Captain Picard order up a plate of nacho chips with cheese and salsa? No, it was always, "Tea, Earl Gray, hot" for the captain. We think transporter beams and photon torpedoes are great, but a future without salty, crunchy, delicious snacks is not one that we look forward to.