March 15, 2016 by akhlloyd
There are special collections, and then there are SPECIAL COLLECTIONS. In the small town of Blackfoot, Idaho, resides one of those unexpected gems in the museum and collections world – The Idaho Potato Museum. Blackfoot is in the heart of potato-growing country in Idaho – the place where so many of the country’s potatoes come from, and the city claims to be the potato capital of the world. If you know that fact, the existence of the Potato Museum in Blackfoot is less of a surprise.
As you walk through the self-guided exhibits in the museum, you’ll learn that potatoes were first planted in Idaho sometime before 1850 by a missionary, the Rev. Henry Spaulding. Though he had to leave due to incursions with the native population, within a decade, there were established areas of settlers in the eastern Idaho territory who were planting potato crops – almost exclusive of any other food crop. The famous Burbank potato was developed in the early 1870s, and the rest, as they say, is history. Potatoes have been grown in eastern Idaho and nearby regions ever since. And, they’ve become a staple of the American diet – according to the Museum, the average American eats nearly 143 pounds of potatoes annually. I’m not certain when that number was calculated, or if it’s still entirely accurate, but I’d imagine it’s pretty close.
But, what’s great about this little museum, which is a mere $3 to enter and for which (if you’re from out of state) you get a free package of potatoes (maybe hash browns or something similar) that you can take home and enjoy, is the vast number of potato related memorabilia and equipment that the museum has amassed. Who doesn’t fondly remember a childhood spent playing with Mr. Potato Head? Well, they have every iteration of that favorite childhood toy, along with many other such items, on display alongside potatoes which look like famous people – including former Vice President Dan Quayle, and every kind of historic farm equipment that has ever been used to grow potatoes. It is really amazing to see what a complicated process it is, getting the potatoes from the ground to the consumer.
Plus, you wouldn’t want to miss a cardboard cutout of Marilyn Monroe dressed in a potato sack, now would you? The Museum hosts a look-alike contest based on the cutout, which draws many fans. And, Blackfoot is easier to get to than you might think. If you’re in the Salt Lake region, it’s a straight shot up I-15. Similarly, if you’re taking a family vacation in Yellowstone National Park, you could make a day trip to Blackfoot, cutting across 26 to I-15 (and there’s plenty to do along the way, including Yellowstone’s Bear World where you could stop and feed a baby bear!). It likely won’t take you long to get through the Museum, but it’s an interesting look at America’s farming past, the struggle of settlers, and how the lowly potato helped forge a nation.
For more on the museum: http://www.idahopotatomuseum.com