Fritos Corn Chips History: How a Texan Changed Snack Food Forever

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Tony Maples Photography


If you love Frito pie, you can thank a Texan for that. In fact, you can thank San Antonio resident Charles Elmer Doolin. His obsession with delivering a perfectly crunchy corn chip led to his quest to mass produce what would become known as Fritos corn chips. His legacy includes Texas favorites such as Frito pie and Cheetos. Though popular across the country today, Fritos are a truly Texas treat.

Origins of Fritos Corn Chips

Fritos corn chips

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Though Doolin did not invent Fritos corn chips, he did perfect and popularize them. During the Great Depression, Doolin ran a candy store, but he wanted to expand his repertoire to include corn chips. Sadly, all the fried tortillas he’d tried grew stale quickly. One day, he sampled fried corn dough strips sold by a local at a gas station. The man sold the patent for the treat, which was a favorite traditional beach food in Mexico, to Doolin. With the recipe, Doolin improved on it and sold bags of it from his shop starting in 1932. By the 1950s, Fritos had become a rage across the United States.

How Fritos Expanded Across the Country

The elaborate Fritos corn chips vending machine at Casa de Fritos in Disneyland

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Fritos became popular partly because they were unique, due to Doolin’s specially bred corn, and partly because Doolin worked feverishly to mass produce and market his chips. Rather than producing batches by hand, he used factory equipment to produce large amounts of them. He sold these across the country. One motivator of his chips’ popularity was a restaurant Doolin opened in Disneyland in 1955. The still-new park was ripe for introducing fresh ideas to the American public. Doolin’s Frito restaurant, Casa de Frito, was a predecessor to fast-casual eateries so common today. The Disneyland location – there was another in Dallas – even had a large, animatronic vending machine with the Frito mascot, Frito the Kid. The vast amount of marketing behind the Frito brand helped to propel it to a national snack.

Who Invented Frito Pie?

Frito corn chips in Frito pie

Photo: Flickr/Rondo Estrello

Frito pie, in some places called a walking taco, should simply consist of chili and cheese topping the chips inside a single-serve Fritos bag. Though some may want to dress up this original recipe, please refrain from doing so to stick to the spirit of its origins. Fritos corn chips use only a handful of ingredients, and Frito pie should not be complicated either. Frito pie came from Doolin’s spouse, Katherine Doolin, who used her kitchen to experiment with the corn chips, creating recipes that would be printed on the bags. Other recipes would not last as long as Frito pie, such as chocolate-covered Fritos. Apparently, people at the time were not as interested in the sweet and salty combinations in foods that Americans love today.


Frito Lay Logo

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Fritos corn chips had become so popular that when Doolin died, he had already collaborated to merge his company with Herman Lay’s to create the Frito-Lay brand. With the larger marketing abilities, Fritos could be enjoyed all over the world. Though with the international sales, the company could no longer develop recipes in the family kitchen, it maintained its family base and expanded. Despite changes over time, the ingredients in Fritos corn chips have remained just as Doolin intended them, which keeps those with a nostalgia for Fritos continuing to reach for them even as the brand gets new fans.