It is a question that has resounded for the past 158 years, ever since that day in late August of 1856 that the potato chip was invented: what would have happened if it had come earlier?
Many hypotheses include guesses that world peace would have prevailed for centuries at a time; that all human suffering would subside when the “crisps” (as the British know them) were plentiful; and that humans would have discovered a different solution to the cholesterol problem by now.
However, it is necessary to take a more reasonable approach. Like chocolate in South America, salt in the Middle East, and precious metals in Europe, potato chips—if they had been introduced into an ancient environment—would have become more than just a trading material, but a useful commodity and a staple food, somewhat of a combination of all three.
While chocolate was a luxury reserved for the rich, while salt was a fact of Roman life, and while precious metals had become a currency of sorts, potato chips would have become everything at once: an everyday luxury/currency.
As in most cases dealing with luxuries and necessities, the nature of the good involved can spark conflicts: growing populations would require more potato chips, and conquistadores would fight for fortunes or at least modest supplies of the crunchy fare.
Obviously the early rise of potato chips would change world history, thus it is imperative that we consider the consequences of such an early discovery.
Here is an alternative historical timeline featuring the rise of potato chips in 544 B.C.:
544 B.C.: Potato chips are invented and are soon developed into a luxury good offered to emperors, gods, and anybody rich enough to afford them.
507 B.C. – Crisps are now available to the masses, and instantly catch on. Grains are no longer the primary food source, nor do farmers continue to develop better seeds or varieties. Potatoes are now in fashion.
10 B.C. – The Roman Empire, now in existence, is conquering surrounding nations at alarming rates, with massive public support for the wars. Most of the conquests are primarily in search of land suitable for growing potatoes.
80 A.D. – Emperor Titus is assassinated because he would not give potato chips and circuses to the plebeians.
94 A.D. – A potato farmer becomes emperor of Rome, contributing to the industry and financing with the public purse a scientific search for a cure for cholesterol.
285 A.D. – The Roman Empire splits in two after experiencing a 20-year long civil war due to a discrepancy between barbecue potato chips versus sour cream and onion potato chips. The state on the west side is known as the Barbecue Empire, and side on the east is known as Saurecreanonion Republic.
410 A.D. – The Barbecue Empire is sacked by the Vegegoths, who are considered “barbarians” and oppose potatoes, considering them unhealthy.
979 A.D. – Potato chips have now been sent to or discovered in every continent.
1099 A.D. – The first Chewsade, a campaign fighting for a comeback of potato chips in the apparently hostile Middle East (inhabited by descendents of the Vegegoths), takes place.
1206 – Genghis Khan begins spreading vinegar potato chips around Eurasia.
1337 – The Hundred Years’ War begins, as England and France, respectively, fight over the issue of salt-and-pepper chips and lemon potato chips.
1347 – A serious disease begins spreading throughout Europe, mainly because of low-quality potatoes. An estimated 20-40% of the population was wiped out in the first year.
1439 – Johannes Gutenberg invents cellophane, revolutionizing potato chip transportation and storage.
1492 – Christopher Columbus reaches the New World, where he immediately begins testing the soil to see if it is suitable for growing potatoes.
1503 – Leonardo da Vinci begins painting the Mona Lisa, a portrait of a girl and a bag of potato chips.
1689 – John Locke writes a letter concerning toleration, demanding that different types of potato chips be allowed in a free market.
1773 — A protest known as the Boston Chip Party erupts due to King George’s exorbitant tax on potato chips, the industry of which was already a monopoly. The Boston Chip Party’s participants dumped over 342 cases of crisps into the Boston Harbor.
1776 – The Declaration of Independence makes its debut, featuring a mention of the King’s tyrannical policy of potato chip taxation.
1789 – The French Revolution begins, a revolution fought over clashes between proponents of French fries and potato chips.
1879 – Thomas Edison invents an automatic potato-slicer, further cheapening the necessity.
1890 – Spud National Park is established.
1903 – The Wright Brothers make the first powered flight, over a potato farm.
1919 – The Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution kicks off an era known as “Prohibition,” in which potato chips are no longer permitted to be eaten with spinach dip.
1929 – The Great Depression begins and the stock market crashes, particularly blue chip stocks.
1955 – McDonald’s opens and features French fries, a major blow to potato chips, which have been around for over a thousand years.
1957 – Dr. Suess publishes Spud in the Mud.
1969 – America sends a man to the moon, mainly to check to see if there was any potential of utilizing the surface as a potato-growing facility.
1990 – The United States signs a treaty that strikes a deal with Russia, re-introducing potato chips to the nation.
2008 – The 2008 recession begins, resulting in another crucial blow to blue chip stocks.
2009 – President Barack Obama is inaugurated, and soon after he pushes through legislation allegedly making potato chips “affordable,” but essentially socializes the American chip market.
2009 — A political party called the Chip Party forms in protest of the Affordable Chip Act, but in a broad sense, it forms to oppose liberal “health nuts.”
2014 – The Affordable Spud Act results in mass pandemonium and worldwide hunger as a main staple food is restricted from consumers.