When brothers Golden and Francis Nephi “Neef” Grigg began renting a frozen foods plant in the tiny Idaho border town of Ontario, Oregon, in 1949, they were hoping to expand their existing frozen corn business to include potatoes. Little did they know they’d taken the first step toward creating Oregon’s prodigal spud: the tater tot.
A few years after the Griggs converted the flash-freezing plant to a potato-processing facility, the building’s owners went under. The Grigg brothers bought the building they’d been renting out of foreclosure, and in 1952 the company known as Ore-Ida was born.
By 1955, Ore-Ida had already been advertising its frozen diced potatoes and shredded potato patties in earnest, so by the time the tater tot was released a year later, the product was well-positioned to be embraced by American households. Released into grocery stores in 1956, tater tots captured the zeitgeist of midcentury America.
They were easy. Picky kids loved them.
Even in the Mormon community whence the Griggs came, tater tots couldn’t have come at a better time.
According to Washington State University professor emeritus of sociology Armand Mauss, the 1950s saw Mormons pulling away from the wholesome, from-scratch farm fare. They were adopting a more American mainstream cuisine, combining processed, ready-to-eat foods, turning Jell-O and canned fruit cocktails into “salads” or cream-of-whatever soup and frozen potatoes into casseroles.