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SIMPLOT, John Richard
Driving around Boise with license plates reading “Mr. Spud,” J.R. Simplot was one of the United States wealthiest agri-businessman in the twentieth century. (2) For more than seventy years, Simplot dominated Idaho’s business and political life. In 2006 he and his family were listed at No. 80 on Forbes magazine’s list of richest Americans with a wealth estimated at $3.2 billion.
Simplot left home at the age of fourteen. He bought interest-bearing SCRIP paid to teachers for 50 cents on the dollar and used that as collateral on a bank loan to purchase 600 hogs at $1 each. (3) He built his first machine, a giant boiler, for cooking up scrap potatoes and horse meat–from wild horses he shot out on the desert–to feed his hogs through a tough winter and in the spring he sold his pigs for a profit of $7,500 when the price of pork was rising. (4)
Using his hog money, Simplot entered the potato business and planted certified potato seed rather than using the practice of culling potatoes. He purchased an early electric potato sorter and by 1940 had bought or constructed thirty-three potato warehouses along the plains of the Snake River from Idaho Falls to Vale, Oregon.
During WORLD WAR II, Simplot supplied U.S. troops with dried potatoes and vegetables. He then began buying cattle, ranches, and timber land. Foreseeing the growing demand for fertilizer, he purchased phosphate reserves and constructed a production plant in Pocatello, Idaho.
Following World War II, Simplot’s food production business began freezing and canning its products and developed the first commercially viable frozen French fries in the world. He teamed up with McDonald’s in the 1960s to supply the fast-food giant with fries. In 2008 Simplot’s company continued to sell one-third of all French fries sold in the United States. Simplot’s businesses, still family-owned, manufactured agriculture, horticulture and turf fertilizers; animal needs and seeds; foods including fruits, potatoes and other vegetables; irrigation products, and industrial chemicals. (5)
In 1980 gambling on new industry, he gave Ward and Joe Parkinson $1 million for 40% of what became Micron Technology, Inc. He later supplied more money when it was needed to help the company construct its first manufacturing plant. The company became a major producer of DRAM, dynamic random access memory, chips used to store information in personal computers and NAND flash memory used in memory cards and USB devices. (6)
Simplot credited his long-life to staying free of tobacco and alcohol. He once rewarded workers who quit smoking with $200 and paid a couple to travel to Idaho schools with exhibits of black lungs in bottles.
Simplot claimed to own more deeded land than any other man in America. He owned the nation's largest cattle ranch in Oregon and had holdings from China to Chile. Nowhere was his influence more dominant than in Idaho, where he funded scores of business, educational and charitable enterprises. He donated millions to the state's colleges and universities and funded causes from Boise's Basque Museum to the Pocatello Public Library. (7) Simplot gifted his luxurious property overlooking his home city of Boise to the state in 2004 to become the governor's mansion. In 2014, however, it was given back to his heirs because it was too expensive to maintain. (8)
At his death, Simplot was the oldest member of Forbesrichest four hundred Americans. At his death, he and his family were ranked 284th on Forbes' list of the world's billionaires. (9)
1. Bonson, Robert E. The Bonson Diaries, June 16, 2008. Available in the CARNEGIE-STOUT PUBLIC LIBRARY
2. Serwer, Andy. "The Simplot Saga: How America's French Fry King Made Billions More in Semiconductors," Fortune, February 12, 2012, Online: http://fortune.com/2012/02/12/the-simplot-saga-how-americas-french-fry-king-made-billions-more-in-semiconductors-fortune-1995/
3. "Entrepreneur J.R. Simplot Dies At 99," Forbes, May 26, 2008, Online: http://www.forbes.com/2008/05/26/simplot-micron-potato--face-markets-cx_mlm_0526autofacescan03.html
7. Woodward, Tim, J.R. "Simplot: Farmboy Who Never went to High School Turns Potatoes into Biggest Fortune in Idaho," Idaho Statesman, May 25, 2008. Online: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2008/05/25/391642/jr-simplot-farmboy-who-never-went.html
8. Davies, Katie. "Take Your $2M Mansion Back! Idaho House Donated by McDonald's Fries Tycoon to become Governor's Home Handed Back Because It Costs Too Much to Water the Lawn," Mailonline. Online: co.uk/news/article-2287259/J-R-Simplot-McDonalds-fries-founders-2M-Idaho-mansion-gifted-public-handed-back.html
9. "Entrepreneur J.R. Simplot Dies At 99."