Simplot didn’t stay in Iowa long. His parents brought him and his six siblings to a little farm near Declo, Idaho when he was about a year old. One could say he left a bit of a mark on the state’s business history.
J.R. made his first money from feeding pigs, and then kept making it. And making it. He lived in a time when it wasn’t unusual to quit school after completing the eighth grade, which was what he did. Most dropouts didn’t go on to become the largest shipper of fresh potatoes in the nation, or become a phosphate king, which he also did. The story of how his company developed a method of freezing French fried potatoes, and how he did a handshake deal with Ray Kroc to supply fries to McDonalds is well known.
J.R. liked to say that he was big in chips. He meant potato chips, but he also meant computer chips. He was key in the early days of computer chip maker Micron Technology. Simplot gave the Parkinson brothers of Blackfoot $1 million in the early days of the company, then put in another $20 million to help Micron build its first fabrication plant in Boise.
J.R. Simplot died in 2008 at age 99. His company recently built a new headquarters building in Boise, and the J.R. Simplot Foundation built something called JUMP next door. That stands for Jack’s Urban Meeting Place. It’s the site of public performances in the arts, various makers studios, giant slippery slides, and a bunch of tractors. That description doesn’t do it justice. None does. You have to see it yourself to understand the vision. It’s worth a visit for the tractors alone. About 50 antique tractors from J.R. Simplot’s personal collection are on display at JUMP in downtown Boise.
The photo of J.R. Simplot with some unidentified kind of tuber is from the Idaho State Historical Society’s digital collection.