Potato Chips

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George Ronald Pierce, an Omaha Inventor

This blog post was inspired by a letter the Douglas County Historical Society received from one of George Ronald Pierce’s children detailing his life and accomplishments.

George Pierce was born in Sac City, Iowa in 1907. The eldest of five children, he learned the carpentry trade from his uncles after his father died in the 1918 flu epidemic. Soon after George married his wife Alice in the fall of 1929, they moved to Omaha. The stock market crashed just weeks after they arrived.

George first found work with Baker Ice Machine, where he developed his die and tool skills. The young family lived in the Saratoga area on Fowler Avenue.[1] Later, he went to work as a toy salesman and designer for the M.E. Hunter Manufacturing Co. located at 3222 S. 24th Street. He invented several toys for the company, including the “Dolly Dell” toy iron, which was available either with a small electrical element that warmed (a little bit), or without the heating element. In 1946, the former sold for $2.25, and the basic model sold for $1.00.[2]

After he’d been in Omaha for about fifteen years, George was called for the draft in 1945. Due to his previous experience in manufacturing, he was placed with the War Production Board. He was responsible for visiting machine shops in the region and identifying factories that could be retooled to produce items for the war effort. As a result, many businesses were able to continue production throughout the war years and keep workers employed.

In the late 1940s, Pierce began working for Industrial Electrics, owned by Bernhardt Stahmer, at 15th and Chicago Streets. There he had a hand in several different products, perhaps the most noteworthy of which was a slicer for potato chips. In 1948, he put the machine on a trailer behind the family car and drove east, showing and selling his company’s invention in several states. They called the chips that it made “Ruffles”. The name was taken from the ruffled lace collars in fashion in the 16th century – it looked like a little corrugated waffle. The uneven surfaces was said to make the potato chip sturdier and better for dipping. Frito Lay purchased the Ruffles trademark from Stahmer in 1958.[3]

A Ruffles package from the 1960’s. Image source: https://www.justcollecting.com/advertising-memorabilia/10-vintage-potato-chip-bags-we-want-back


Throughout his career with Industrial Electrics, George Pierce went on to continue inventing specialized industrial tools, such as a retractable spring-loaded reel that could hold tools above an assembly line work station, keeping tools out of the way, but within arm’s reach.

George Pierce retired to Texas, where he passed away in 1994.

Inventor and engineer George Ronald Pierce. Image courtesy of Delores Cantú.


[1] Polk City Directory, 1931.

[2] Omaha World-Herald, November 26, 1946.

[3] Schoups, Annelise. “Why is Ruffles called Ruffles?” https://www.rewindandcapture.com/why-is-ruffles-called-ruffles/

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