Of the many people whose lives and activities have influenced the direction and progress of the Idaho potato industry, one stands out from all the rest, John (Jack) R. Simplot. Simplot has been, in turn, the largest fresh shipper of potatoes in the state, the largest grower of Idaho potatoes, and the largest processor. And, along with the distinction of being first in Idaho in each of these categories, Simplot probably has the distinction of being number one in the world.
Although Jack Simplot has achieved much in the size and the scope of his potato operation, his greatest contribution to the industry has been his immense capacity for innovation, pioneering, speculation, and the absolutely fearless assault of unknown frontiers in production and marketing.
J. R. Simplot was not born in Idaho. He traveled to the Gem State in an immigrant car with his father, mother, brothers, and sisters. The Simplot's went first to Washington, where they soon became dissatisfied, and backtracked to Idaho. Their first year was spent in the farming village of Burley, where the older Simplot built several houses. The family occupied one of these houses for a while as their new Idaho home.
This was the time of great new agricultural developments in Idaho and irrigation projects were opening vast new tracts of land. Jack Simplot's father decided to become a part of the homesteading activity and took a tract near Declo, Idaho. The family moved to the farm, built a log house, and began the labor of clearing brush and leveling the land to get ready for the availability of irrigation water. Among his earliest recollections, Jack Simplot tells of dragging a railroad rail across the land between teams of horses to tear out the sagebrush and level the land for irrigation. The process was known as railing.
Irrigation water was ready on schedule the next spring, and the Simplot's planted their first crop including acreage of potatoes. The Russet Burbank was unknown in Idaho at that time, and Simplot recalls that they probably grew Rurals or Cobblers. Farm labor was done primarily with the power of horses and human muscles, and Jack Simplot's boyhood was spent in hard work helping his father on the farm.