Couldn’t Eat Just One: Potato Chip Magnate Herman Lay

Image from Furman UniversityOn June 3, 1909, snack food tycoon Herman Lay was born in Charlotte.

An entrepreneur for a young age, Lay first sold Pepsis to spectators at the city baseball park across the street from his Greenville, South Carolina, home at age 11. He translated that pursuit into a job as a peanut vendor in the park.

His first foray into the world of potato chips came in the early 1930s, when he interviewed for a job at Barrett Potato Chip Company in Atlanta, distributor of Gardner’s Potato Chips. At the time he decided not to take the job because he doubted that there was a future in the potato chip business.

Lay later accepted the chip job and in time became a distributor for Barrett’s in Nashville, Tennessee.  In 1939, he purchased Barrett’s potato chip factories in Atlanta and Memphis and changed the name to H. W. Lay and Company. He eventually bought the remaining Barrett plant in Florida and then started three new factories of his own, including one in Greensboro.

In the 1950s, Lay expanded his product variety and area by purchasing other snack food companies. In 1961, he merged Lays with Texas-based Frito Company. Lay spearheaded the merger of Frito-Lay with Pepsi in 1965, creating the mega-corporation, PepsiCo.

Lay retired from the snack food industry in 1980 and died two years later.

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