Turkey day is just around the corner! Did you know there are literally hundreds of different side dishes folks around the world prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving? The most popular is, of course, mashed potatoes. With that popularity comes one major conflict:
To mash, or not to mash?
Some choose to show their muscles in the kitchen, mashing and smashing until their softened potatoes are a creamy blend of smooth, potato-y goodness. But there are those out there who prefer to take it easy, or focus their efforts elsewhere. This is where instant potatoes shine.
The usage of instant potatoes has been around since the 1960s. Edward Asselbergs has the distinction as the inventor for the process of producing instant potato flakes. However, the instant potatoes we see today wouldn’t have been possible without the tireless work of Miles Jamison Willard.
Willard was born on June 10, 1924 to Ethel and Miles Willard in Philadelphia, PA. After high school he attended the Drexel Institute of Technology - now Drexel University. He studied engineering until the United States became involved in World War Two. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and saw much of the fighting overseas, including the Battle of the Bulge. The Army eventually assigned Willard to study engineering at Rutgers University, and afterward he was transferred Los Alamos, New Mexico. There, Willard’s duties included working on the engineering of pressure gauges and valves for a military project. He later learned the work he had done in New Mexico was for the atomic bomb.
After World War Two, Willard returned to Drexel and completed his engineering degree in 1949. Willard’s career in food technology began at his employment with the Eastern Regional Research Laboratory of the USDA in Philadelphia. Here, he and a colleague developed a new drying process for the manufacture of instant mashed potato flakes.
In 1955 his career took him to Idaho, where he designed and operated the world’s first commercial potato flake plant for the Rogers Brothers Company. He worked there as the Director of Research for about nine years.
In 1973, Willard established the Miles Willard Company, which later became Miles Willard Technologies and is currently located in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He ran the company until his retirement in 1998, and that same year was inducted in the Idaho Potato Hall of Fame. Willard also received an honorary Doctorate degree from the College of Agriculture at the University of Idaho. Miles Jamison Willard passed away on November 26, 2004 at 80 years old - an Idaho legend.
Miles Jamison Willard collection, MG 533. University of Idaho Library Special Collections and Archives, Moscow, ID.
To view this collection and others, please contact the U of I Library Special Collections and Archives.