History of Fritos

THE UNKNOWN HISTORY OF FRITOS

© History Oasis

As economic despair gripped the globe in the 1930s, a glimmer of hope emerged in the unlikeliest of places—the kitchen of a former Texas confectioner, where the first Fritos were fabricated using hand-me-down equipment as fascism festered in Europe and the Dust Bowl ravaged America's heartland.

With little fanfare in Depression-weary San Antonio, Charles E. Doolin unwittingly concocted in crispy corn form a touchstone of Americana that would ultimately spread from coast to coast—even as dictators and demagogues seeking autarky left their corrosive ideological imprint across continents in that fraught decade marked by hardship yet hungry for comforts like those a five cent snack bag could provide.

From this kernel of enterprise was born an empire upon which the sun never set, its sunset-orange bags heralding the promise of better days to come.

IN 1932 BY CHARLES E. DOOLIN BOUGHT THE ORIGINAL FRITOS RECIPE FOR $100

vintage fritos ad
Source: Fritos

​​In the darkest days of the Great Depression, a bold entrepreneur by the name of Charles E. Doolin seized upon an opportune moment to launch an iconic American brand.

With scarcely a dollar to his name in 1932, Doolin purchased for $100 an inspired recipe for 'Fried Corn Chips' along with some humble equipment from a San Antonian named Gustavo Olguin.

Little could Olguin have envisioned how that hand-off would sate the hunger pangs of millions in the decades to follow.

From such humble beginnings in Doolin's own kitchen using Olguin’s rudimentary potato ricer and cast-iron kettle, a multi-billion dollar snack food giant was born that would one day feature such household names as Cheetos, Nacho Cheese Doritos, and Ruffles Potato Chips.

Though economic storms loomed, one man’s faith in America's snack food future shone as a beacon of prosperity in trying times, offering the satisfying crunch of golden corn between one’s teeth as a token of better days yet to come.

THE FOUNDER OF FRITOS WAS A NATUROPATH WHO DID NOT EAT MEAT OR SALT

Portrait of Charles Doolin
© History Oasis

Though his founding fortune derived from fried fare, Charles E. "C.E." Doolin proved a paradoxically austere figure in his eating habits, reflecting the ascetic mores of obscure diet guru Herbert Shelton.

This former confectioner, who built his Fritos empire from humble origins during depressed times, found himself besotted by the teachings of the Texan naturopath-turned-notorious-naysayer of cookery.

At Shelton's urging, Doolin adopted a Spartan lifestyle, forsaking not only meat but salt, spices, and anything deemed unnatural or overwrought.

Such unorthodox views scarcely dampened the meteoric rise of his namesake company.

If anything, the founder's abstemious choices imbued the brand with an air of counterintuitive integrity. Here stood a man transmogrifying raw grains into gold without partaking himself—his bank account swelled as his stomach shrank.

Of course, behind the scenes, Doolin's doubtful doctrines were doubtless disregarded by disbelieving underlings diligently working to delight the American palate.

The tens of millions ravenously scooping up Fritos bags over the decades have tacitly agreed: Mr. Doolin, we admire your success, but we respectfully decline your diet.

FRITOS WERE FIRST MADE AND SOLD OUT OF THE DOOLIN FAMILY'S KITCHEN

Fritos vintage ad showcasing a picknic
Source: Fritos

From humblest of kitchens to the most far-flung of supermarkets—such was the trajectory of Fritos in their earliest days under creator C.E Doolin. Lacking factories or storefronts in 1932 San Antonio, this fledgling family business ran on imagination instead.

The startup capital might scarcely suffice for a filling dinner, but with those $100 bought old potato ricers and repurposed roasting pans to extrude and fry their corn dough.

Quickly outgrowing the family kitchen's capacity, operations expanded into the garage, the makeshift headquarters now redolent with hot oil and what would soon become an iconic aroma wafting down streets nationwide.

Neighbors witnessed curious scenes as Model Ts and A's pulled up for nickel bags of fried snacks, not fathoming that this garage-front shop might one day grow into a titan vending vittles.
But with this kernel of enterprise, Doolin and kin forged an American success story—one redolent of hot oil and hard work.

BY 1961, THE FRITO COMPANY HAD OVER 50 PRODUCTION PLANTS AND EVEN SOME "FRITO FARMS"

vintage fritos coupon
Source: Fritos

Scarcely three decades since its founding in humblest of homes, the Frito Company had blossomed by 1961 into a coast-spanning colossus of corn cultivation and chip production.

Beginning with storefronts and garages in 1930s San Antonio, erstwhile confectioner C.E. Doolin actualized his ambition for nationwide Frito distribution through over 50 company plants employing legions, while demand drove cultivation of company corn farms across its home state of Texas.

As the Kennedy era commenced, these spokes of production kept pace with mid-century America's surging hunger for Doolin’s browned wafers of corn.

Where postwar prosperity once spelled profits principally for meat-and-potato dinners, a new national appetite for all things convenient brought Fritos out of fringe food status into endless supermarket aisles soon to bear the company founder’s surname: Frito-Lay.

Though fried fare was originally deemed suspect, America was raising new generations for whom Louisiana plants plumping Cheetos and Dallas factories extruding blazing hot Cheetos were as assured as sunset.

THE FRITO BANDITO MASCOT WAS DISCONTINUED DUE TO COMPLAINTS THAT THE IMAGE WAS RACIST

Frito Bandito the original Fritos mascot
Source: Fritos

From lighthearted cartoon bandito to noxiously stereotyped villain, such was the trajectory of Fritos’ marketing mascots through the civil rights era.

For fifteen years beginning in 1952, when segregation and ethnic biases still permeated American society, the Frito Kid cavorted across billboards and broadcasts as the snack maker's affable envoy.

But the countercultural rumblings of the 1960s soon overwhelmed this maize-hued cowboy.

Seeking to update their image for changing times in 1967, Frito-Lay fatefully opted for a bandido by the name of Frito Bandito.

Bespeckled and toothy, he aimed to pinch pennies and pilfer chips with harmless humor.

However, minority advocates reviled the mustachioed, sombrero-and-bandolier wearing caballero as perpetuating painful stereotypes.

By 1971, amidst accusations of racism and protests, the company buckled and banished Bandito to the pastures.

THE FRITO BANDITO WAS REPLACED BY A GROUP OF COWBOYS CALLED THE MUNCHA BUNCH

fritos vintage promotion
Source: Fritos

As the racially-charged Frito Bandito was driven off into the sunset, a more innocuous troupe galloped in to replace the infamous bandido as the snack brand's spoke screw.

They were known simply as the Muncha Bunch—a grinning, waving posse of cowboy characters concocted to steer clear of controversy.

With their wide hats, fuzzy chaps and harmless hankering for hearty corn chips, these Frito frontmen reflected a return to safer stereotypes of the American West rather than caricatures of Mexico.

While they lacked the defined personality of old mascots, their bland congeniality garnered few complaints as they called the nation to crunch through the 1970s and 80s.

Their hearty yet homely images betokened the family-friendly fare upon which Frito fortunes were increasingly built.

IN 1965, PEPSICO ACQUIRED FRITO-LAY’S

Pepsi spanish ad
Source: PepsiCo

When snack startup Frito-Lay and soda giant Pepsi joined forces in 1965, it united two of America’s most beloved homegrown brands into a historic corporate marriage that created an enduring colossus of chips, dips and fizzy drinks.

This union of convenience cuisine and refreshing refreshment proved both propitious and lasting, minting vast fortunes for decades hence.

Where humble San Antonian Charles Doolin once cooked corn fritters over home stoves in Depression-era obscurity, his legacy enterprise now spanned continents and influenced daily diets through icons like Doritos, Cheetos, Lay’s and Pepsi itself.

Yet the foundational Frito flavors remained imprinted on the blended company’s DNA even as it added global reach.

And so from countless modern kitchen cabinets and refrigerators, the sight of Fritos bags brushes shoulders with Pepsi cans some six decades since the landmark acquisition paired two crowning symbols of American appetite under one proud banner.

The united brand still satisfies millions daily with that most classic of pairings: Fritos and Pepsi.

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