Businessperson Entrepreneur Lawyer
United States of America
19 July 1881, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
13 March 1959, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, U.S.A.
(aged 77 years)
Laura Clough Scudder (July 19, 1881 – March 13, 1959) was an entrepreneur in Monterey Park, California, who made and sold potato chips and who pioneered the packaging of potato chips in sealed bags to extend freshness.
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BiographyPotato chipsLaura Scudder Inc.
Born in 1881, in Philadelphia, Laura Scudder was a nursing student in Trenton, N.J., then worked as a nurse, before moving to Ukiah, in Northern California, having married Charles Scudder on July 4, 1908. She opened a restaurant across from the Mendocino County Courthouse, where lawyers encouraged her to study law.
While there she became the first female attorney in Ukiah, California (but she never practiced law) before moving south in 1920, to Monterey Park, California, where Charles ran a gas station (a garage and attached brick building at the Northeast corner of Atlantic and Garvey) until he was disabled, repairing a car, Laura took over the gas station, but branched out into the potato chips in 1926 and later, peanut butter in 1931. The Scudders lived in La Habra Heights Laura Scudder tended a victory garden and wrote a newspaper column.
At first, potato chips were distributed in bulk from barrels or glass display cases, or tins, which left chips at the bottom stale and crumbled. Laura Scudder started having her workers take home sheets of wax paper to iron into the form of bags, which were filled with chips at her factory the next day. This innovation kept the chips fresh and crisp longer and, along with the invention of cellophane, allowed potato chips to become a mass market product.
Scudder also began putting dates on the bags, becoming the first company to freshness date their food products and sold in twin packs to further reduce staleness and crumbling. This new standard of freshness was reflected in the marketing slogan: “Laura Scudder’s Potato Chips, the Noisiest Chips in the World.” The Laura Scudder Potato Chip Factory was at Garvey Avenue east of Atlantic Boulevard, Monterey Park in the 1920’s.
Laura Scudder faced many obstacles running her own company during the Great Depression. For instance, when she tried to get insurance for the company’s delivery truck, she was denied by all the local male insurance agents, who claimed that a woman would be unreliable at paying the premiums. The female insurance agent who eventually insured the truck went on to insure the entire company fleet.
She expanded into peanut butter and mayonnaise in order to keep her workforce employed year round since potato chips tended to sell best during summertime. She published recipes to raise interest in her products and was noted for a chocolate cake recipe that used mayonnaise instead of eggs and butter. Ingredients like butter and fresh eggs were scarce during World War II due to rationing for civilians because of the effort to supply the needs of military personnel.
Laura Scudder’s Mayflower Potato Chips Billboard (1931 – Fairfax Ave. looking south from Drexel Ave.).
Laura Scudder Inc.
At one point, Laura Scudder turned down a $9 million offer for the company because the buyer wouldn’t guarantee her employees’ jobs. In 1957, she sold her firm to Signal Oil & Gas of Signal Hill, with a $6 million offer from a buyer who guaranteed job security for her workforce. The new company was called Laura Scudder Inc. At the time of the sale the company had expanded into mayonnaise, and Laura Scudder brand potato chips held a greater than 50% share of the California market. She continued to run the company until her death in 1959. Laura Scudder’s Papers and the Women’s Studies Scholarship is at Chapman University. Laura Scudder Program Series is at the Bruggemeyer Library, in Monterey Park. with donations from the Laura Scudder Foundation
In 1987, Laura Scudder Inc. was sold to Borden, Inc. for $100 million. Annual sales for the chipmaker were $126 million in 1986. However, union difficulties motivated Borden to close all California plants of Laura Scudder only a year later. Borden’s overall culture of mismanagement, incurrence of excessive debt to finance numerous acquisitions, and several restructurings led in 1993, led Borden to sell what remained of Laura Scudder for less than $16.7 million. However, the buyer, G.F. Industries, Inc.’s Granny Goose subsidiary was already in trouble, and was put up for sale in January 1995. In 2009, Snack Alliance, Inc. licensed from The Laura Scudder’s Company, LLC the rights to produce and market potato chips under the Laura Scudder’s brand. According to the J.M. Smucker Company website, the Laura Scudder’s Natural Peanut Butter business was acquired by Smucker’s from BAMA Foods Inc. in December 1994. As of 2009, Smucker’s marketed the Laura Scudder’s brand of natural peanut butter on the west coast. According to a March 31, 2010 announcement, Snack Alliance, Inc. was acquired by Shearers Foods Inc., a manufacturer of competing salty snacks in different regions of North America. At the same time (2010) it appears the original Laura Scudder’s brand is being actively marketed by a California-based company. These two companies have different packaging for their different Laura Scudder’s products, and the California company appears to be marketing its products nationwide.