J.R. Simplot (1909-2008)

The name “Simplot” brings to mind many things – Simplot Games, the J.R. Simplot Company, Idaho, potatoes, success.  And Jack Simplot, who launched his empire at the tender age of 14, no doubt recognized the potential in each of the young athletes he greeted.

His Love For Simplot Games

J.R. "Jack" Simplot

J.R. Simplot was an enthusiastic supporter of the Simplot Games, regularly attending the Games on Saturdays to view the ceremonies and final events. He enjoyed mingling with the high school participants, shaking hands and encouraging them to do well on the track and in school, and sharing one of his secrets to success: “Stay with it and just do your best.”

He recognized the similarity in finding success in business and on the track: hard work, vision, the willingness to take risks, and the ability to overcome the odds.

We remember Simplot, the man.

J.R. with Athlete at the Simplot Games

John Richard “Jack” Simplot was the epitome of the American Dream, rising from poverty to become one of the great tycoons of the great American West – and one of the first great tycoons of the Internet Age. From its humble beginnings, the Simplot Company today is a global business, with over 10,000 employees and operations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, China, Australia, and New Zealand. Listed by FORBES as one of the largest privately-held companies in the U.S., the Simplot Company is still owned and controlled by the Simplot family.

He made Idaho’s potatoes famous by improving the quality of potatoes, pioneering frozen french fries and dehydrated potatoes, and providing the fertilizer that produces superior spuds. Later he funded another Idaho success story, fledgling microchip manufacturer Micron, Inc., more than half a century after he launched the first.

Building An Empire

Jack and Esther

When he was only 14 years old, Simplot left home to seek his fortune. Living in south-central Idaho, he bought interest-earning scrip at 50 cents on the dollar, then used the scrip as collateral on a bank loan to buy 600 hogs for $1 each – which he fattened and then sold a year later for $7,800.

With his newly earned fortune he leased land and planted certified seed, rather than the then-common practice of planting potato culls. As a 19-year-old, he won a coin-flip for his partner’s half of an electric potato sorter and was soon providing sorting services for his Declo neighbors. His company quickly surged to four sorters and 33 potato sheds across the state, and Idaho’s dominance in the potato industry was born.

During World War II, Simplot supplied one-third of the dried onions and potatoes consumed by U.S. troops. When commodity shortages during the war made it difficult for Simplot to purchase fertilizer for his potatoes, he solved the problem with his typical zeal: he built a fertilizer manufacturing plant.

In 1944, production began at the Don Plant in Pocatello, providing fertilizer for Simplot growers. The company mined its own phosphate, ensuring the plant had an adequate supply. After 65 years, the Don Plant continues to provide farmers across the West and Midwest with top-quality fertilizer to grow the crops that feed America.

In the late 1940s, Simplot company chemists developed a process for crispy and tasty frozen fries, and by 1955 the J.R. Simplot Company’s annual french fry production was more than 10 million pounds. In 1967, Simplot became the supplier of half the McDonald’s fries sold worldwide and Idaho’s first billionaire. Over the years, Simplot has supplied french fries to most fast food chains and countless restaurants.

The Spirit of the Games Lives On

J.R. Simplot at the Simplot Games

Later in life, Simplot had an artificial hip and knee, and said that as long as he had money and the doctors had spare parts, he’d be their best customer. He skied until he was 89, bought (and rode) his first WaveRunner jet ski at 94, and followed his beloved Boise State Broncos to the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix at age 98. Young Simplot employees reguarly joked that Mr. Simplot would outlive them all.

A great believer in positive mental attitude, Simplot often said, “I’ve never had a bad day.”

Simplot Games’ sponsor adidas says that “Impossible is Nothing.” Jack Simplot lived a life that proved it. And through his lasting legacy of the Simplot Games, he continues to provide young athletes with opportunities to prove it for themselves.


Spirit of the Simplot Games

The Simplot Spirit Lives On – Passing the Baton