The year was 1968. Vince Lombardi had led the Green Bay Packers to their 2nd Super Bowl appearance. "Just hit, just run, just block, and just tackle," he told his team before Super Bowl II. They went on to rout the American Football League champion Oakland Raiders 33-14. James Anderson, Jr. became the first black Marine awarded a Medal of Honor. He died cradling a grenade like it was a child to shield the rest of his platoon from the blast. "His personal heroism, extraordinary valor, and inspirational supreme self-sacrifice reflected great credit upon himself and the Marine Corps," Lyndon B. Johnson said. That December, Elvis Presley made his triumphant return to the concert stage with the televised '68 Comeback Special. Steve Binder, the director of the special, said that Elvis "had the attitude of, this is our little window of opportunity to do something that he'd been yearning to do for a long time," and gave it all he could - practically living on the set! - and the results were spectacular. The debut was the highest rated show in 1968, and the show become an essential part of the Presley legacy, putting his career back on track.
1968 was a year of personal triumphs and a true testament to the human spirit. We'll probably never see a year like that again, and nowhere did the indomitable energy of that year make its mark more powerfully than in the potato chip industry. This was when all the major food, drink, and toiletry producers were expanding their empires. They bought up every minor producer they could, turning the "fast moving consumer goods" sector into an oligarchy. Procter & Gamble (P&G), already the inventor and owners of lucrative brands like Ivory soap, Tide detergent, Crest toothpaste, Downy fabric softener, and Pampers diapers, was looking for a way to it expand its presence in the potato chip industry, which was dominated by Frito-Lay (a division of PepsiCo). One of P&G's scientific researchers, Alexander Liepa, uncovered the dusty, decade-old efforts of chemist Fredric Baur, and was inspired.
Back in the late 1950s, Baur had been asked by P&G to ditch his lab coat for an apron and to create the perfect potato chip in their kitchen laboratory, which was a sterile, white-walled room with cold tiles and all the latest in stainless steel appliances. His final design for the chip was a double-saddle shaped fried crisp made from a rice, potato and wheat-based dough. Making the chips from dough rather than potato slices not only made the chips less greasy, it allowed the shape of all the chips to be uniform. And that was important, because the whole purpose of the double-saddle shape was to make the chips stackable so that they could be sold in the airtight tube-shaped containers Baur had designed to prevent the chips from breaking when they were transported.
There was only one problem with Baur's new chips. They tasted too plain. Ultimately, after a year of unsuccessful efforts to fix the problem, P&G stopped all work on Baur's chips and reassigned Baur to other, less important projects. However, Baur's experiments fascinated Liepa, and Liepa decided it was worth seeing if there could still be a way to make the chips taste good. On August 6, 1968, Liepa came up with a recipe that made the durable chips flavorful, too. Human ingenuity had won the day again, triumphing over the odds. The chips were named Pringles, and Baur's red, tube-shaped container, which was his monumentum aere perennius ("a monument more lasting than bronze"), showed up in selected stores across the country later that year.
I'd like to say that Pringles was an immediate success, but that isn't entirely true. The texture and taste of Pringles confused consumers at first, who were used to traditional potato chips. Then the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, won over by a lawyers hired by competing potato chip manufacturers, determined that P&G couldn't legally call Pringles potato chips because they weren't made from potato slices. They had to be called "potato chips made from dried potatoes", and it was determined that "the last four words must appear on the can in type at least half as large as the words potato chip" (to quote an old Time magazine article on the subject).
But those were all just speed bumps for the mighty Pringles potato chip. By 1975, Pringles had captured a remarkable 1/6 of the potato chip market, and their popularity has never really let up since. It's like a revolution that never ends. Today, more than a billion dollars worth of Pringles are sold yearly. Like the slogan says, "once you pop, you just can't stop." The hyperbolic paraboloid shape of the chips was refined for production and aesthetic purposes in the 1990s using IBM supercomputers, making the chip just that much more irresistible.
There's one last thing worth discussing. There are some who say that the face of the mustachioed mascot on the Pringles can reminds them of Big Brother from 1984, whom George Orwell described as looking like "the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black mustache and ruggedly handsome features." I don't buy the connection or even understand what it could mean, but to each their own, I guess. All I know is that I love Pringles. Pringles are great. Baur's ashes were put in a Pringles can (a 100% fact). I dream of Pringles. And if there came a day when I couldn't eat Pringles, I'd be very, very depressed. And angry. Very angry. I need Pringles.