By Alexandra Villalobos
During the early 1930s a man named Elmer Doolin drove his Model T Ford around San Antonio selling five-cent bags of corn chips and earning about two dollars profit per day. Elmer Doolin, along with his parents, Charles and Daisy, and his brother, Earl, began the manufacture, sale, and popularization of the corn chips that would later bear the famous name of Fritos.
As manager of the Highland Park Confectionary, which sold ice cream and other snacks, Elmer Doolin was on the lookout for a new product. In 1932, Doolin ordered a sandwich and a bag of corn chips at a small San Antonio café and learned that the producer of the chips, eager to return to Mexico, was willing to sell the business. Doolin purchased the recipe, thirty-nine retail accounts, and the only equipment, an adapted potato ricer, for one hundred dollars.
The four Doolins began making these early Fritos in the kitchen of their home at 1416 Roosevelt Avenue. During the day, Elmer searched for high-quality corn, hand-washing it and grinding it. At night, after the family would hand-roll, thin, and deep-fry the dough made from that corn, they would pack it in five-cent bags, which Elmer would go sell throughout San Antonio the following day. The family could produce approximately ten pounds of Fritos in an hour.
Soon, however, the demand for the tasty corn chips rose, and the family had to move production to the garage and, later, to a duplex next-door to their house. Elmer and his brother Earl, who, as both secretary and vice president of the company, controlled the engineering and production of the chips, invented and patented a number a machines that helped dramatically increase production, such as a press that utilized a hammer to cut the Fritos into correctly sized strips. By 1933, such mechanization allowed the Doolins to produce almost one hundred pounds of Fritos an hour.
Later that year, the Doolins relocated their company headquarters from San Antonio to Exchange Park in Dallas because of the advantageous central location and material supply. Under the Doolin family, The Frito Company opened the first research and development lab of the food industry and established new products such as “Ta-Tos” (originally named Fritatos Potato Chips), introduced in 1935, and “Fluffs” (later called Baken-ets Fried Pork Skins), introduced in 1939. Elmer and Earl further continued the advancement of production machinery by creating automatic presses and improved cooking vats for the rapidly growing company. Because of Elmer’s and his family’s efforts, in eight years, the meager corn chip business that had been purchased for one hundred dollars employed hundreds of people and was well on its way to becoming one of the leading salty snack companies in the world.
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Lemann, Nicholas. “The Frito.” TexasMonthly.com. May 1982. 22 Nov. 2006 <http://www.texasmonthly.com/ranch/readme/frito.php>
New York Times. “Earl Doolin, 86, Dies; Co-Founded Frito Co.” The New York Times. 9 April 1992. 21 Nov. 2006 <http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=964761271&sid=3&Fmt=3&clientId=34251&RQT=309&VName=PQD>
The Handbook of Texas Online. Frito-Lay Corporation. 20 Nov. 2006 <http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/FF/diffs.html>
Worley’s San Antonio (Texas) City Directory, 1932, San Antonio, p. 329.