By Carla Charter
BLACKFOOT, ID. – When people think of Idaho they often think of potatoes, with the state producing an average of 13.5 billion pounds of potatoes each year. The Idaho Potato Museum celebrates the state’s link to this iconic vegetable.
The museum first began in the early 1980s when a group of local people involved in the potato industry began looking for a way to showcase potatoes and their importance to Idaho’s economy.
When Union Pacific donated the old Oregon Short Line Railroad depot to the city of Blackfoot, it was decided to turn it into the Idaho’s World Potato Exhibition, according to Tish Dahmen, Executive Director of the Idaho Potato Museum.
Prior to opening, the committee and volunteers had to roll up their sleeves and clean the old depot. “Built in 1913, the depot had had a great run serving the people of Bingham County as a passenger depot and then as a freight depot. The depot was closed in the early 1980s and had sat vacant for so many years that it took a huge effort to make it habitable,” Dahmen said.
When the exhibition opened in August 1988 contained no real exhibits. Instead there were only displays with ideas written out as to what the committee planned for exhibits, Dahmen continued.
The popularity of the exhibit encouraged this committee to move forward with an official opening in 1989. “The first year, nearly 5,000 people visited the “Expo.” Since that time, the Idaho Potato Museum has steadily built upon this foundation. Today, the museum entertains approximately 30,000 people a year,” Dahmen continued.
Today visitors to the museum can learn about the history of the potato; how spuds are cultivated and harvested; and why Idaho is a spectacular place to grow potatoes, said Dahmen. Other exhibits include the “World’s Largest Potato Crisp” made by Pringles in 1991 and a potato signed by former U.S. Vice-President Dan Quayle.
Also on display are collections of potato spikes, a kitchen tool used to bake potatoes, potato peelers, potato mashers and a Mr. Potato Head collection. The museum also houses vintage farm equipment, talking potatoes and a cinema.
The first recorded crop of potatoes in Idaho was planted at the Spalding Mission in Lapwai Valley in northern Idaho about 1838. The first recorded crop of potatoes planted in southern Idaho was by William Goforth Nelson, who settled in Franklin County. He recorded in the summer of 1860: “We all camped in our wagons the first summer, but we all got homes built by winter; these houses were built in the present meeting house lot in a fort. I spent the summer working on ditches, canton roads, and hauling poles and wood from the canyon. I raised thirty-three bushels of potatoes, which is all that was raised in Franklin that summer except for a few onions,” Dahmen continued.
Idaho is the top producer of potatoes in the United States and accounts for more than 32 percent of all potatoes produced in the country. Blackfoot, the county seat of Bingham is the Potato Capitol of the United States as Bingham County produces more potatoes than any other county in the United States. More information about the Idaho Potato Museum can be found at their website www.idahopotatomuseum.com