J. R. Simplot

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J. R. "Packed" Simplot
J. R. Simplot.jpeg
John Richard Simplot

(1909-01-04)January 4, 1909
Dubuque, Iowa, U.S.
DiedMay 25, 2008(2008-05-25) (aged 99)
Boise, Idaho, U.S.
Resting placeMorris Hill Cemetery
Boise, Idaho
Other namesJack, J.R., John
EducationEighth grade dropout[1]
Known forFounder and
chairman emeritus of
J. R. Simplot Company,
oldest member
of the Forbes 400.
Net worthIncrease$3.6 billion[1]
Ruby Adeline Rosevear
(m. 1931; div. 1960)

Esther Becker
(m. 1972)
Children4, including Scott
Parent(s)Charles Richard Simplot
Dorothy Ann Haxby Simplot

John Richard ("Packed" or "J.R.") Simplot (/ˈsɪmplɒt/; January 4, 1909 – May 25, 2008) was an American entrepreneur and businessman best known as the founder of the J. R. Simplot Company, a Soda Springs, Idaho based agricultural supplier specializing in potato products.[2][3] In 2007, he was estimated to be the 89th-richest person in the United States, at $3.6 billion. At the time of his death at age 99 in May 2008, he was the oldest billionaire on the Forbes 400.[4]

Early life[edit]

Born in Dubuque, Iowa,[3] he was the third of six children of Charles R. and Dorothy (Haxby) Simplot. His maternal grandmother was English, as were both parents of both his maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother. Both of his paternal grandfather's parents were French. A year later in 1910, the family relocated a thousand miles (1,600 km) west to homestead in the newly-irrigated Magic Valley of south central Idaho; the Minidoka Dam on the Snake River was completed a few years earlier.

After differences with his authoritarian father, Simplot left school in the eighth grade at age 14 in 1923. He then worked on a farm near Declo in Cassia County, where he developed a creative method for feeding hogs, before getting into the potato and vegetable processing business.[2][5]

J. R. Simplot Company[edit]

By World War II, the J. R. Simplot Company had become the largest shipper of fresh potatoes in the nation.

In 1967, Simplot and McDonald's founder Ray Kroc agreed by handshake that the Simplot Company would provide frozen french fries to the restaurant chain. Previously, restaurants had cut potatoes at each location for fresh french fries, but the favored russet potato was not available for three months in the summer, leading to a quality control problem. Simplot was able to supply frozen russet potatoes all year long. By 1972, all fries were frozen.[6] The frozen fry deal led to expansion of Simplot potato processing plants and construction in 1977 of a new plant at Hermiston, Oregon. By 2005, Simplot supplied more than half of all french fries for the fast food chain. Simplot also produces fertilizers for agriculture.[7]

Simplot retired as president of his company in 1973, but remained as chairman until 1994. He held the title of Chairman Emeritus until his death in 2008. Simplot received an honorary degree from Utah State University in Logan in 2001,[8] honoring him for his many contributions to the agricultural industry of America, particularly the Intermountain West.

Simplot was involved in the Potato Bust of 1976.[9]

Further enhancing his enormous wealth, the J.R. Simplot Company provided startup capital in the early 1980s for the fledgling Micron Technology, a Boise-based manufacturer of computer memory chips.[2] Additionally, he invested heavily in Remington Oil.

In 1961, Simplot financed the Brundage Mountain ski area near McCall, two hours north of Boise. The Simplot Company sold its 50% interest in Brundage in April 2006 to the longtime co-owner, the DeBoer family. In the early 1950s, Simplot was the benefactor to the fledgling Bogus Basin ski area near Boise when it had financial difficulties; the base area lodge is named in his honor.

In 1995, the J.R. Simplot Company expanded into Australia, acquiring iconic food brands like Birds Eye, Leggo's, Chiko, and Edgell.[10]

Simplot's first marriage was to Ruby Rosevear (1911–2004) of Glenns Ferry,[11] whom he had met on a blind date; he proposed to her in his Model A Ford in 1931. After 29 years and four children, the marriage ended in divorce in 1960, when she suddenly left Simplot for another man. Years later, Simplot admitted that while he was growing his business empire in the 1950s, he had not spent enough time with his family.

He and his second wife, Esther Becker (b.1934), a former opera singer, met in the mid 1960s in New York. He was on a business trip and she was working as a receptionist for the Henry Phipps Foundation; they were married in 1972.[12]

Before his death, Simplot and his wife Esther resided in the Grove Hotel building in downtown Boise, a few blocks from the company's headquarters. The couple donated their hilltop home, in Boise's north end, to the state of Idaho in late 2004 for use as a governor's mansion.[13] (Known as "The Idaho House," it was returned to the Simplot family in 2013, and demolished in January 2016.)[14]


On January 1, 2007, while attending the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, with his wife and son, Simplot fell from a motorized scooter and suffered a cranial hematoma. He was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, where he spent his 98th birthday.[15] Simplot returned to Idaho several days later for further rehabilitation.[16]


Simplot died suddenly at his home at age 99 on May 25, 2008,[3] with his wife at his side, following a bout of pneumonia from which he appeared to be recovering. His death occurred moments after he had invited a friend to his home to play cards.[17]

Simplot was survived by his wife, two sons, Don and Scott, and his daughter, Gay; his eldest son, Richard (Dick), died in 1993 at age 59. He was also survived by 18 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. He was interred at Morris Hill Cemetery in Boise.[18]

In 1996, Simplot was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.[19]

Awards and Honors[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "#89 John Simplot & family". Forbes. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
  2. ^ a b c Trillhaase, Marty (July 1, 1990). "Simplot". Lewiston Morning Tribune. p. 1A.
  3. ^ a b c Miller, John (May 26, 2008). "Potato mogul J.R. Simplot dead at 99". Moscow-Pullman Daily News. (Idaho-Washington). Associated Press. p. 3A.
  4. ^ "#80 John Richard Simplot and family". Forbes. 178. 2006-09-21. ISSN 0015-6914. Retrieved 2007-06-30.
  5. ^ "Mr. Spud". Retrieved 2008-05-30.
  6. ^ : Behind the Arches, pp. 327–332, Love, John F., rev. ed., 1995, New York: Bantam Books
  7. ^ Brandt, Richard (1990-09-03). "J.R. Simplot: Still Hustling, after all these years". Business Week (3176): 60–65. ISSN 0007-7135.
  8. ^ Honorary Degrees from Utah State University,
  9. ^ The Asylum, Leah McGrath Goodman, Harper Collins, 2011
  10. ^ "Simplot Australia - Introducing Simplot Australia". Simplot.com.au. Retrieved 29 March 2019.
  11. ^ "Simplot's ex-wife Ruby Shipp dies". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. April 23, 2004. p. 7C.
  12. ^ "Simplot: Farmboy who never went to high school turns potatoes into biggest fortune in Idaho". Idaho Statesman. May 25, 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
  13. ^ Oxley, Chuck (December 22, 2004). "Simplot hands over house on the hill". Lewiston Tribune. Associated Press. p. 2C.
  14. ^ "Simplot Family Says Boise Mansion to Be Torn Down". KTVB. January 4, 2016. Archived from the original on 2016-01-07. Retrieved January 4, 2016.
  15. ^ "Idaho's richest citizen will celebrate his 98th birthday from a bed in Phoenix". Archived from the original on 2014-08-30. Retrieved 2007-01-04.
  16. ^ "J.R. Simplot's back in Boise". Archived from the original on 2014-08-30. Retrieved 2007-01-23.
  17. ^ "J.R. Simplot dies at 99, with wife Esther at his side". Idaho Statesman. Retrieved 2008-05-25.[dead link]
  18. ^ "Morris Hill Cemetery walking tour: J.R. Simplot". Idaho: City of Boise. Parks & Recreation. Archived from the original on April 28, 2017. Retrieved October 1, 2015.
  19. ^ "Hall of Great Westerners". National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Retrieved November 22, 2019.
  20. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.

External links[edit]