J.R. Simplot, 99, an Idaho farmer who dominated the state's business and political landscape for 70 years and became one of America's richest men as the "spud king," died Sunday at his Boise home.
His businesses, still family-owned, manufacture agriculture, horticulture and turf fertilizers; animal feed and seeds; food products such as fruits, potatoes and other vegetables; and industrial chemicals and irrigation products. He all but invented the first commercially viable frozen french fries.
Mr. Simplot and his family were ranked at No. 80 on Forbes magazine's 2006 list of richest Americans, with an estimated wealth of $3.2 billion.
Starting out in 1923 with four $20 gold coins, he used the money to make money. By 1940, he had bought an early electric potato sorter and bought or built 33 potato warehouses from Idaho Falls to Vale, Ore. He went on to buy ranches, cattle, timberland and a fertilizer plant.
After the war, his food-production business expanded into freezing and canning, developing the product that would become the company's mainstay: the frozen french fry. Later, he struck a deal with McDonald's Corp. founder Ray Kroc, and his fry business grew with Americans' love for fast food. Late into his life, he would drive his Lincoln Town Car with "Mr. Spud" vanity plates to the fast-food chain for hash browns or french fries several times a week. - AP